maintained under the protection and favor of Your
Honor’s own weapons. We cannot carry on trade without war nor war without trade.
–dispatch to the Dutch East India Company
Lords Seventeen, Laurens Reael,
Governor-General of Dutch Indies, 1618
In the history of tea, as in much else, the doughty Dutch tend to get overlooked by historians writing about their more numerous neighbors. But in civilization as well as seamanship and commerce they were second to none of these neighbors in the centuries of exploration. The Dutch formed the first East India Company before rival companies were established (by the French, Danes, Swedes, Spanish, Scots and–briefly–Austrians, in addition to the English). Of all these, the Dutch company was far the most prosperous throughout the 1600’s. At the height of its power around 1675 the Company commanded a fleet of 150 trading ships and forty warships with twenty thousand sailors and ten thousand soldiers, employed around fifty thousand civilians, held sway over eight foreign “governments,” i.e., colonies like Cape of Good Hope, Ceylon, and Java, and maintained five or six additional way stations or trading posts. Despite all these expenses, the company still paid a 40 percent annual dividend!
This was the organization which first brought tea to Europe in 1610–green tea from Japan, to be exact. Before long the Company also imported China tea and promoted it so successfully that evidence of its enterprise survives still in the trade term Orange Pekoe. Pekoe was a corruption of Bai Hao, the Chinese words for white tip, in reference to the unfurled leaf bud covered with white down, an infallible sign of the leaf’s infancy and thus of the superior delicacy of the tea. The first teas of this quality brought to Holland must have been presented to the royal family, the House of Orange, and by stroke of marketing genius, tea of the Bai Hao type was promoted to the Dutch public as Orange Pekoe to suggest a royal warrant.
Continued in Tuesdays With Norwood: Holland is First – Part Two