A cup of tea anyone, made the 18th century way?

We’ve looked our favourite subject of hot chocolate, then coffee, so now it’s time for a post about eighteenth-century tea drinking.

Two Ladies and an Officer Seated at Tea, c.1715; Dutch School
Two Ladies and an Officer Seated at Tea; Dutch School; Paintings Collection Victoria and Albert Museum, c.1715.

At the beginning of the 1700s, according to the Daily Courant of 1705, green tea was very popular, but it was to be served correctly i.e. with milk. Tea at that time was extremely expensive at 10 shillings per pound, in comparison with chocolate which sold at 3 shillings a pound; chocolate with added sugar was only 2 shillings and 6 pence a pound.

A Tea Party; Joseph van Aken
A Tea Party; Joseph van Aken; Manchester Art Gallery

There appear to have been two main types of tea on the market Bohe-Tea (black tea) which was often drunk to relieve colic pains and to aid the explanation of wind and green-tea which helped the suppression of urine and was more efficacious than sage, etc. The use of mineral water when making tea could cure-all ills – so we are told! So now you know!

Teatotalism by Edward Bird, c.1795
Teatotalism by Edward Bird, c.1795; Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

From the Domestic Management book of 1800, we have the following step by step guide to making the perfect cuppa.

As it frequently falls to upper maids and footmen to make tea apart, for company it is felt that a little know how to make it well, a little instruction is required.

The tea-pot should be of a size proportioned to the number of persons that are to be served and the size of the cups.

If six persons are to drink tea, the pot should hold as much as will fill nine cups. One tea-spoonful is sufficient for each person to have three cups of tea; which is the general quantity drunk by each. Six tea-spoons full is about half an ounce; there being 13 in one ounce.

These should be put into the pot, and boiling water poured on, till the pot is one-third full. It should thus stand a quarter of an hour, which will draw a good tincture.

A Lady Taking Tea; Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin
A Lady Taking Tea; Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin; Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow

In the meantime, boiling water should be poured into the cups, to heat them; for unless the tea is served hot it is little better than slop. When the tea is sufficiently drawn, the teacups should be emptied. The pot filled with boiled water (not water that has been boiled but boiling).

The tincture of tea in the pot will make the whole sufficiently strong, and the boiling water added, will make the whole sufficiently hot. After filling the six cups, the pot will remain one-third full, as before, and will still draw the tea, and add fresh strength to it.

British School; Tea Service on a Tray; British School
Tea Service on a Tray; British School; Paintings Collection Victoria and Albert Museum

When the cups are returned, if the kettle is at hand (as it always should be), the cups should be washed with clean boiling water and emptied into the basin and not washed in the basin, into which the slop has been thrown.  After this, fill up the pot a second time, and pour it off immediately, and the second round of cups will be equally strong and hot, as the first. The tea, then in the pot left, will be also one-third of its contents, which is so to continue, till the cups are to be filled a third time.

Ladies at tea by Thomas Rowlandson.
Ladies at tea by Thomas Rowlandson. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The cups being a second time, returned and washed, pour more boiling water into the pot, so as to fill it two-thirds, and then, after filling the cups a third time, the pot will be quite empty, and the strength of the tea all served; whereas many, by pouring too much water on the leaves at last, will make the last round of tea very weak, and leave two or three cups of good tea in the pot, to be thrown away. By this mode of making tea, it will be all uniformly strong and all serve up hot.

Mrs Ellen Sharples by Rolinda Sharples, c.1814.
Mrs Ellen Sharples by Rolinda Sharples, c.1814. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

Should any of the company want a fourth, or fifth cup, another tea-spoonful of tea should be added to the pot, a little boiling water poured over it, and time allowed it to draw, or extract its strength, and the whole should be managed as before. It is the best way, and most agreeable to everyone, to send round the sugar and cream with the cup, and let each person take what he pleases.

If tea is made in an adjoining room and sent in, the best method is to put a tea-spoonful of tea for each person, into a pot that will contain as many cups as there are persons, and fill it up, letting it stand a quarter of an hour, or longer; and when it is to be served, pour as much tea from the pot as will fill up each cup one-third full, and fill it up from the kettle with boiling water. This will make the tea equally as good as if managed in the other way.

The Tea Garden; George Morland
The Tea Garden; George Morland; Tate

After all of that, we think we deserve a good strong cup of tea, made using a tea bag!

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Featured Image

Mercier, Philippe; A Girl with a Tea Cup; National Galleries of Scotland.