How did an ancient Asian tradition become something quintessentially British? The fashion for Tea drinking in Great Britain started at court in the later seventeenth century and spread among the aristocracy. Tea remained a heavily taxed luxury until a century later, 1n 1784, when tea duties were slashed from 119 to 12.5 percent, making it affordable to the general public.
In the eighteenth century, the rise of the East India Company — founded to trade with India, Southeast Asia, and China — led to a British monopoly on tea distribution. This global grip established the nation’s mercantile empire, critically dependent on colonial occupation and the movement of slaves. In 1771, American colonists famously protested Britain’s commercial control, dumping imported tea into Boston Harbor during the Boston Tea Party.
Ambitious British pottery manufacturers and retailers leveraged tea’s popularity to their advantage, cultivating an enormous national ceramics industry. Vastly expanded production yielded new wares, materials and consumers. Profit margins on ceramics were slim, so quality mattered, as did efficiency. Resources and skills were often shared, as innovative makers sprung up and sometimes quickly failed. These developments signaled a shift — creative and economic — toward mass manufacture in a remarkably nimble market, generating a booming export industry for Britain as a result
Photographed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.