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The History of Tea

January 21st, 2011


Tea is the most culturally and economically significant non-alcoholic beverage in the world, after water. Mostly grown in China and India (tea cultivation in India was begun in the 19th century by the British), 98% of teas are black teas created through a fermentation process. Popular in Europe from the 17th century it reached its height of popularity in the 1880s. The tea bag was invented by Thomas Sullivan in 1908 and iced tea became popular after it was served at the St. Louis World Fair of 1904. Tea was considered an appropriate drink for women, as drinking alcohol was not ladylike. The term teetotaling actually meant an abstinence from alcohol.

In the early part of the 19th century, the Boulton family at The Grange and their friends would usually have had two meals—breakfast and an early supper. As the century moved on and men went out to offices to work, a midday meal would have been served and supper would have been much later. Afternoon tea (or low tea) helped fill the gap between lunch and supper. This tea would have consisted of cakes, cookies, and small sandwiches. There are references to Harriet and Goldwin Smith having tea together in The Grange library. High tea, or meat tea, was a much more sustaining meal eaten as an early supper around six in the evening. This is still common in agricultural communities where lunch is the main meal of the day.

If that has whet your appetite for tea, please join us at one of our upcoming tea inspired events.

Jennifer Rieger, Historic Site Coordinator of The Grange, Art Gallery of Ontario

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