Tea - Tea ware


University of Wolverhampton



Nancy Cox and Karin Dannehl

Year published


Supporting documents

Citation Show another format:

'Tea - Tea ware', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820 (2007). URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=58894 Date accessed: 18 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


(Min 3 characters)


[tee; tay]

Tea is made from the buds and leaves of the shrub now labelled Camellia sinensis, though there have been many alternative names in the past; Thea sinensis, Camellia thea, Camellia theifera and Camelia bohea are cited in the RHS Dictionary of Gardening [Synge (1951, new ed.1956)], while Simmonds believed there were were two species, Thea viridis sinensis and Thea bohea [Simmonds (1906)]. Tea is a native of Yunnan, but it has been long cultivated by the Chinese, who developed distinct strains most suitable for the various types of tea. It was introduced from China to Java and India in about 1835. All tea in the early-modern period, therefore, came from the Far East, particularly China [Bean (1914-33, revised ed. 1976)].

Although naturally a tree, the plant was generally pruned to form a shrub to encourage maximal leaf production, with only a few left to grow and produce seed. Plucking was by hand and could be undertaken several times during the growing season. Usually only the terminal bud and the two terminal leaves were selected, but adding extra leaf gave extra production of an inferior quality [Masefield et al (1969)]. Once picked, the leaves were prepared on site, a process that involved several stages, depending on the type of product desired. Teas were generally divided into two groups; GREEN TEA (which included GUN POWDER TEA, HYSON TEA and SINGLO TEA) and BLACK TEA (such as BOHEA TEA, CONGOU TEA, PEKOE TEA and SOUCHONG TEA), but some types were intermediate in their characteristics like OOLONG TEA. In 1772 Bohea, Congou, Pekoe and Souchong were designated as black tea by statute, all other varieties being deemed green [Acts (1772)]. Until recently it was claimed that green tea, as opposed to black tea, dominated the British market during the early decades of the eighteenth century. But if green tea was the market leader for a short period of time, by the 1720s black tea held an equal place, and by the 1760s it had achieved dominance in the commercial markets. Its particular taste and aroma can account for its success. Whilst green tea was milder, and more narcotic, black tea was 'full bodied with a strong aroma and more suited to the addition of sugar and milk' [Brown (1995)].

The main differences between these two types of tea lay in the preparation, rather than in the varieties of leaves used. The leaves intended for green tea were dried and heated immediately after picking to prevent fermentation. By contrast, the leaves for black tea were subjected to a process of withering, rolling, fermentation, drying and sifting. The price of teas depended upon the time of picking, because the youngest leaves demanded the highest prices.

The first recorded European references to tea and tea drinking come from travellers' journals and the accounts of missionaries in China during the 1550s. Soon after its formation in 1602, the Dutch East India Company began trading in tea locally in the Far East purchasing supplies from Chinese junks that sailed to Bantam in Java. It is only in 1610 that the first small shipments reached Europe through Amsterdam. By 1640, the Dutch were receiving regular shipments at Batavia (now Jakarta), though they still had no control over production. Their attempts to obviate this by growing tea in Java failed [Jamieson (2001)]. Thus virtually all tea in the seventeenth century reached northern Europe through the Dutch. The English East India Company gained access to the market in Canton, China, in 1720, the Dutch not till 1729. The access of both companies was limited, and merchants were not allowed into the city itself. Even so the trade grew very rapidly; from 120 tonnes in 1720, the two companies combined imported 360 tonnes into Europe in 1740 and 720 by 1765. By 1785, English imports alone (excluding that smuggled) were double that of COFFEE by weight [Jamieson (2001)].

Despite the exotic appeal of this drink and the alleged medical benefits, tea did not attract much attention from the British until the 1650s, following its promotion by the politically influential poet Edmund Waller and the celebrated missionary Father Alexander of Rhodes [Brown (1995)]. Tea became better known after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, since Charles II had spent his exile in Holland, where tea was already popular, and his wife Catherine of Braganza came from Portugal whose people were among the earliest to adopt the new beverage. Both drank much tea, so popularising it at court. For Samuel Pepys, it was clearly a new drink in September 1660, though six years later drinking it was for him not out of the way [Diaries (Pepys)]. Outside the capital, its acceptance as the usual caffeine-laden drink moved slowly. The Lancashire gentleman, Nicholas Blundell, for example, made regular purchases of coffee, but drinking tea was still a matter of celebration in 1716 [Diaries (Blundell)].

Many people may have been introduced to tea through the sale of it ready made in what would now be called cafes and restaurants. It was in this form that in 1660 tea first came to the attention of Excise, being taxed at 8d GALLON, though this was withdrawn thirty years later as 'not only very trouble some and unequal upon the Retailers of those Liquors, but also uprofitable' [Acts (1660)]; [Acts (1689)]. Tea houses and tea gardens remained popular throughout the period, at least partly because it was acceptable for women to use them whereas coffee houses were the preserve of men. By the late-eighteenth century sales of ready-prepared tea had reached surprising levels; one foreign visitor commented on the sale of 240 gallons of tea apparently in one summer afternoon in an inn by Newington Green [Diaries (Lichtenberg)].

The sale of dry tea for preparation at home increased during the eighteenth century, but it remained for the most part a high status and expensive commodity as it was heavily taxed both by Customs and by Excise. In 1723 a complicated system of licensing was set up embracing every 'Druggist, Grocer, Chandler, Coffeehouse-keeper, Chocolatehouse-keeper, and all ... other Persons ... who ... shall become a Seller or Sellers, Dealer or Dealers in ... Tea, either Wholesale or Retail'. This entailed the careful keeping of records to facilitate the collection of an excise duty of 4s LB [Acts (1722)]. The price may have been kept artificially high by a subsequent act that declared tea that could not be sold for 5s per pound was to be destroyed [Acts (1725)]. Further regulations were introduced throughout the century, partly to reduce smuggling and partly to minimize fraud. For example, in the early 1770s it was enacted that dealers were to label clearly each canister to indicate whether black or green tea was contained in it [Acts (1772)]. The 'Instructions to Officers' issued in 1778 show just how burdensome the whole process had become [Instructions (1778)].

Only the wealthiest consumers could afford to buy the blends of the best quality, which they usually purchased directly from London because tea from provincial shops was believed to be, and in some cases may well have been, of a poor quality. Whilst the exorbitant price of tea in America (higher than in Britain owing to the additional re-export duty), led to the type of social protest expressed at the 'Boston Tea Party' of 1773, in Britain it produced a vigorous market for differing standards of tea. The majority of the population may have been forced to settle for TEA DUST or second-hand tea, often sold after having been used once by enterprising servants on the doorsteps of wealthy households to be processed by the dealers. Demand for cheap tea encouraged some retailers to sell fraudulent substitutes, made by dying the leaves of other plants. This practice, known as 'sophisticating tea' is well described in the statutes that were intended to stop the practice [Acts (1731)]; [Acts (1777)]. As well as encouraging counterfeiting, high prices led to a vigorous black market of smuggled tea. By the 1780s this illegal trade had expanded to such unmanageable levels that William Pitt was forced to re-think the taxation of tea and other beverages. In 1785 taxes were reduced from around 100% to 12.5 % paid by the supplier. Inevitably this led to a resurgence in the legal importation of tea: within a year, quantities of imported tea had risen from 6,000,000 LB to 16 000,000; and by 1830 to more than 30,000,000 lb [Brown (1995)].

As tea drinking became a English habit a range of accessories were introduced into the market place, including the TEA CADDY, TEA CUP, TEA KETTLE, TEA POT, TEA SPOON, TEA STRAINER and TEA TABLE. By the later eighteenth century the purchase of these new goods was popularly associated with female (particularly middle-class) consumption and sociability. Barker-Benfield notes, for example, that in eighteenth-century paintings of tea parties 'Women, who are literally central, serving themselves and each other, as well as men, and serving the viewer to display the proper gestures accompanying the new equipment. Men are ancillary, taking their cues from women in the recreational activity' [Barker-Benfield (1992)]. Kowaleski-Wallace goes further, suggesting that 'the ritualized behaviors of women at the tea table are signs of an ongoing process of the disciplining and normalizing of the female body' [Kowaleski-Wallace (1997)]. Tea became a symbolism of feminism associated with the idea of tea as a product of Asia and therefore effeminate, leading to idle gossip and wanton behaviour.There was even some concern that men might become effeminized and thus unfit for hard labour. This was of less moment for the social elite for whom afternoon tea became an important ritualized meal filling a gap between breakfast and dinner, but was felt to be a serious problem among the lower orders of either sex [Jamieson (2001)]. Critics wrote of tea drinking as an 'occasion of much idle gossiping among women', and of how it so 'corrupted the morals of the people of almost all ranks that they have rendered industry a stranger' [Langford (1992)]; [Diaries (Turner)].

Pseudo-medical tracts were written that were particularly intended to scare women, seen to be most at risk. For example, one anonymous physician condemned women who engaged in tea-drinking as bad mothers, by arguing that tea effected 'a Diminution of their prolifick Energy, [causing] a proneness to miscarry, and an Insufficiency to nourish the child when brought into the world' [Anon (1725)]. Impassioned warnings about the dangers of tea were given well into the nineteenth century. William Cobbett, writing in 1821, used similar language, when he wrote of the relative demise of alcoholic beverages: 'The drink which has come to supply the place of BEER has, in general, been tea. It is notorious that tea has no useful strength in it; that it contains nothing nutritious; that it, besides being good for nothing, has badness in it, because it is well known to produce want of sleep in many cases, and in all cases, to shake and weaken the nerves' [Cobbett (1821, pb 1978)]. Ingenious retailers exploited these opinions by marketing allegedly safe alternative to tea. During the 1770s a series of advertisements circulated, proclaiming the benefits of so-called SWEDES TEA that had been imported and 'rendered into an English Compound.' The marketing strategy focused upon its advantages over real tea: 'it is strengthening and reviving, free from the Evils which attend the Use of Tea ... The Japanese, who drink a great deal of Tea become paralytic, and the people of China die of the Diabetes ...' [Newspapers (1770)].

Loud objections to the habit notwithstanding, the popularity of tea continued to spread right down the social scale Though the small farmer, Richard Latham never recorded a single purchase during the forty years he kept details of expenditure [Latham (1990)], the account book of a retailer of Didsbury in the 1780s shows that poor people were buying tea [Mui and Mui (1989)]. Even in the Poor Houses, where the use of tea was almost always forbidden, it does occasionally appear in the records of payment, justified there for medicinal purposes. But complaints of inmates using their pitiful wages earned at houses of industry to buy tea and sugar, and of others selling their food to exchange outside for these luxuries, suggest that individual consumption may have been higher than the authorities would have liked. As Shammas points out, despite constant deficiencies in their diet, about 10% of the income of the poor probably went on new commodities, chiefly tea and sugar, preferring these when they had to choose to the more sustaining cheese and meat [Shammas (1990)]. Although GIN is sometimes regarded as the drink of the poor in the eighteenth century, it is no less true of tea.

Note that 'Teas' was used as an abbreviation of tea ware or some such term, as in '1 Sett Blue Breakfast Engl. Teas 3s/6' [Inventories (1790)].

OED earliest date: 1598

Simone Clarke

Found described as COMMON, curious, FINE, GENUINE, as imported Found in units of CHEST, LB, OUNCE, POUND, TUB
As a beverage: Found prepared in units of CUP, DISH, GALLON, PIPE Found rated by the LB

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Anon (1725), Barker-Benfield (1992), Bean (1914-33, revised ed. 1976), Brown (1995), Cobbett (1821, 1978 ed.), Instructions (1778), Jamieson (2001), Kowaleski-Wallace (1997), Langford (1992), Latham (1990), Masefield et al. (1969), Mui and Mui (1989), Shammas (1990), Simmonds (1906), Synge (1951, new ed.1956).

Tea board

[teabord; tea-board; tea table board; tea board]

A TEA TRAY usually made of WOOD, though some were JAPANNED or otherwise made more decorative. It was one of the essential accoutrements of drinking TEA and manifested gentility and fashionability.

OED earliest date of use: 1748

Found described as OVAL, ROUND, SMALLSQUARE Found made of bamboo, MAHOGANY

Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers, Tradecards.

Tea boiler

[tea-boiler; tea boyler]

A vessel, usually with some decorative pretensions, that served the same function as a TEA KETTLE, although it was seen as distinct since the two have been noted listed together [Inventories (1758)]. A tea boiler usually came with its own lamp as in 'a Copper Tea Boyler & Lamp' [Inventories (1720)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1748

Found described as TIN Found made of COPPER

Sources: Inventories (late), Patents.

Tea caddy

[tea-caddy; tea-caddie; tea chests and caddies; tea cade]

Tea caddy is the general term given to the container for the dried TEA leaves during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Caddies took a variety of forms and were sometimes given different names, such as TEA CANISTER and TEA CHEST. Tea caddies were made in CERAMIC (sometimes with moulded or painted decoration), or metal, in the shape of jars, bottles or vases, with a cover. The earliest kind had no provision for a spoon but by the 1690s the covers of some were shaped like a thimble and this was used to measure the tea. (See Wiliam Hogarth's portrait of 'The Walpole Family' painted in the late 1730s, showing tea being measured in the top of the tea caddy.) By the mid-eighteenth century, vase-shaped caddies were being made with handles on the side from which a long handled SPOON or CADDY LADLE could be hung. Some were both extremely fancy and expensive; for example the 'Fine Etruscan Tea Cade with Figures @ 52/6' sold by a midland 'manufacturer in paper' [Tradecards (1775)].

WOODEN tea caddies in the 1700s were lined in LEAD to keep the tea fresh. By the mid-eighteenth century the opening of caddies was wider with a hinged or sliding lid and a measuring caddy spoon or ladle could be kept inside.

As tea became cheaper in the later eighteenth century tea caddies became larger and usually held only one kind of tea. Oval and hexagonal shapes were popular and the boxes were made in a variety of materials; SILVER, LAQUERED METAL or various WOODs sometimes patterned with MARQUETRY, or covered in IVORY, MOTHER OF PEARL or TORTOISE SHELL [Hughes (1951)]; [Delieb (1960)]. In 1775, the foreign tourist George Lichtenberg mentioned tea caddies in particular when he admired the JAPAN WARE and LACQUER WARE made at Boulton's manufactory at Soho in BIRMINGHAM [Diaries (Lichtenberg)]. He also mentioned that one cost three GUINEA - a clear indication of the luxury market for which it was intended. One London retailer offered 'Tea Chests and Caddies, plain and with handsome Cut Glass Cannisters, mounted with Silver, Patent Locks, &c.' [Tradecards (1790s)]. They also usually had a lock to prevent theft by servants of the TEA inside.

Since tea caddies were fashionable items, they were sometimes used for promotional purposes. S. Norgrave of Shrewsbury was one of several retailers that used a tea caddy as his logo [Tradecards (1751)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1790 under Tea

Margaret Ponsonby

Found described as DOUBLE, ETRUSCAN, with figures, FINE, INLAID, PLAIN, SINGLE, 'in a pleasing variety of Sorts and Patterns'

Sources: Diaries, Patents, Tradecards.
References: Delieb (1960), Hughes (1951).

Tea canister

[tea-canister; tea keanister; tea cannister; tea canaster]

Most commonly an alternative name for a TEA CADDY but, like the TEA CHEST, the tea canister could be a large container for WHOLESALE storage, such as those containing more that 50 LB of TEA each in the possession of a London retailer [Inventories (1721)]. As part of tea equipage it referred to a container for holding tea made entirely in metal, as distinct from the TEA CHEST (later called a TEA CADDY), which was made in wood with a metal lining.

OED online earliest date of use: 1726 in the first sense

Margaret Ponsonby

Found described as OLD, PAINTED, TIN Found as a size for a POUND

See also CANISTER.
Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers, Tradecards.

Tea chest


The term was applied to two different types of container, both for holding tea. The first was a form of TEA CADDY. Tea chests in this sense were usually made of WOOD, although similar designs were also made in metal and then they were called TEA CANISTERs. Inside the tea chest were two or three compartments to hold METAL or GLASS containers for different kinds of TEA and sometimes a dish for blending the tea. A covered SUGAR BOX or bowl complete with a lid might also have been included. Further compartments provided space for a measuring spoon, sugar tongs and TEA SPOONs. Two entries in the Dictionary Archive suggest that these internal containers may have been called CANISTERs; 'One Tea Chest and Canasters' valued in all at 2s [Inventories (1758)], and 'Tea Chests and Caddies, plain and with handsome Cut Glass Cannisters' [Tradecards (1790s)]. Tea chests, like the other accoutrements of drinking tea, were fashionable items and so could be JAPANNED, made of decorative woods like MAHOGANY or SATINWOOD, or made as TUNBRIDGE ware [Tradecards (1790s)], or of PAPIER MACHE [Patents (1772)].

OED earliest date of use: 1740 in this sense

Tea chests on a stand were called teapoys [Chippendale (1762), for patterns]; [Hepplewhite (1788)], possibly because of a mistaken association of ideas, and the real teapoy may have been no more than a three-legged TABLE. Tea chests on stands have not been noted in the Dictionary Archive, neither have teapoys.

OED earliest date of use: 1801 in this sense

The term was also applied to a large box or chest lined with SHEET LEAD, in which tea was packed for transport.

Margaret Ponsonby

Found described as mounted with SILVER Found made of MAHOGANY, MOROCCO, SATIN WOOD, WALNUT

Sources: Acts, Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Tradecards.
References: Chippendale (1762), Hepplewhite (1788).

Tea cloth

Not noted in the Dictionary Archive in the sense it is commonly used today as a cloth for drying china etc., but rather a small cloth made of LINEN, to fit a TEA TABLE or TEA TRAY.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1770 possibly, 1891 with certainty

Sources: Inventories (late).

Tea cup

[teas seconds cups; teas cup; tea-cup]

A CUP from which TEA is drunk, it was usually of a small or moderate size, and in its later development it had a handle. The combination of CUP and SAUCER was also a late development. Although Arabian coffee houses were using PORCELAIN cups imported from CHINA in the sixteenth century, it seems that Europeans did not take this as their source of inspiration when they started to drink tea. Instead, cups were imported direct from source, initially through the Portuguese and Dutch trading posts in the Far East, respectively at Macao and Batavia, but by the early eighteenth century in British boats, after the East India Company had gained a foothold in China at Canton . It was sometimes used as a rough measure, for example [Tradecards (1760s)].

OED earliest date of use: 1700

Found described as breakfast, BROWN and WHITE, ENAMELed, NANKEEN, WHITE
Found in units of DOZEN

Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Ross (2001).

Tea dealer

[tea-dealer; tea & coffee dealer]

When TEA first appeared in the shops in England, it was often sold by those who offered other goods imported from the Far East, like CHINA. It was only gradually that it was perceived as a form of GROCERY. Once that association was established, the genteel and fashionable association of tea pushed some grocers up-market. This process was often marked by a designation of double occupation such as 'Grocer & Tea Dealer' [Tradecards (18c.)].

OED earliest date of use: 1758 but without definition under Tea

Sources: Newspapers, Tradecards.

Tea drinker

Apparently a late-eighteenth-century children's TOY, noted only once in the advertisement of a dealer with a huge stock well promoted [Tradecards (1794)]. Probably it consisted of a figure in the Chinese style, whose limbs could be moved mechanically so as to suggest someone drinking from a cup.

Not found in the OED online in this sense

Sources: Tradecards.

Tea dust

The only example in the Dictionary Archive of tea dust appears among the stock of a London retailer who died in 1716 [Inventories (1716)]. The dust was valued cheaply for the time. Presumably, when most teas were extremely expensive, tea dust, or the sievings and sweepings from better qualities, provided a useful alternative and therefore a viable commodity. Tea dust, though not necessarily under that name, was used to make products like OUCHAIN TEA. That TEA for sale was not always carefully sieved, quite apart from the possibility of other adulterating types of dust used to lengthen a batch, is evident in the instruction to the retailer, 'pray don't let your Bohea tea be so full of Dust as your last was' [Eland (1931)].

OED earliest date of use: 1979 under Tea

Found in units of LB

Sources: Inventories (late).

Tea kettle

[tea-kettle; teakettle; tea kettell; tea cattle]

A KETTLE in which water is boiled for making TEA, although by 1756 at least, they had become a normal vessel for heating water generally. Some tea kettles had their own heater or lamp as in 'One Copper lamp for a Tea Kettle' [Inventories (1735)], and they were sometimes supplied with a purpose built stand [Tradecards (1748)]. A tea kettle was one of the items included in the complete set of 'Kitchen furniture' advertised in The Times in 1788 [Newspapers (1788)].

Tea kettles were expensive, because they were made by skilled workmen and took time to make. A witness before the House of Commons in 1712 stated that he could make a single tea kettle in four days with Dutch BRASS, but it took six with English [House of Commons Journal (1803)]. Probably it had hardly been possible before the introduction of rolled sheet copper and brass in the early-eighteenth century [Cox (2000a)].

OED earliest date of use: 1705

Found described as BLACK, DUTCH, fluted, LARGE, OLD, PLAIN, three QUART, SILVER chased Found made of BRASS, COPPER, IRON, TIN

See also TEA URN.
Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: House of Commons Journal (1803), Cox (2000a).

Tea kettle holder

This has been noted in two eighteenth-century advertisements. In the one it was listed along with COFFEE POT handles [Tradecards (1771)], and in the other with LACE - BOBBINs [Tradecards (1794)]. Together they suggest a a device made of WOOD designed to assist in handling a hot TEA KETTLE and pouring out the water.

Not found in the OED online

Sources: Tradecards.

Tea kitchen

An alternative name for a TEA URN. A quotation dated 1770 in the OED online shows that Josiah Wedgwood was making highly decorative tea kitchens. Some tea kitchens came with their own stands as in 'a mahogany Tea Kitchen stand' [Inventories (1780)]. This was probably what Gloag called a TEA KETTLE stand, which was a small tripod stand, usually made of MAHOGANY, designed to stand beneath the TEA TABLE and to hold the kettle with its lamp [Gloag (1952, revised 1991)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1770

Found describing STAND

Sources: Inventories (late).
References: Gloag (1952, revised 1991).

Tea lead

An alloy, principally of LEAD and TIN, used for lining TEA CHESTs. It was probably this that was meant in the instruction sent to one dealer 'Desire the teas may be put up in sheetts of black Lead' [Eland (1931)].

OED earliest date of use: 1815

Found described as OLD Found in units of LB

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (late).

Tea leaves

[tea leav'; leaves of tea]

It is not clear what is meant by the single entry in the Dictionary Archive. It occurs among the stock of a substantial dealer in teas, who has large quantities of named varieties as well as a small amount of TEA DUST. His tea leaves were valued at the lower end of the range, but by no means the lowest [Inventories (1716)]. It is possible that what was recorded here were recycled leaves intended for the poorer end of the market. As such they would have been unidentifiable in terms of variety. If this hypothesis is correct, it is an early example of an acknowledged practice, later regulated to prohibit methods of making them look like fresh leaves [Acts (1731)]; [Acts (1777)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1685 as Leaves of Cha or Tea under Tea

Found in units of LB

Sources: Acts, Inventories (late).

Tea pot

[teapott; tea-pot; teapot; tea pott; tea and coffee pots]

A pot with a lid, spout and handle, in which tea is made or brought to table. These were often regarded as status symbols and they often highly decorative, made of EARTHENWARE or CHINA, sometimes with SILVER components such as the spout as an act of parliament in the 1790s shows [Acts (1790)]. One craftsman even advertised that he 'puts silver spouts to Tea-Pots' [Newspapers (1750)]. Tea pots were also made wholly of SILVER and of other metal [Tradecards (18c.)]. Early British tea pots roughly emulated the Chinese, retaining the squat, rotund shape , but by the mid-eighteenth century, potters like Josiah Wedgwood were making adventurous designs to attract the fashion-seeking market. The term may also have been used for a TEA KETTLE. This would explain entries in one probate inventory of '1 Brass Bohea Tea Pot & fframe', '1 Copper Ditto without a fframe', and '1 Bohea Tea Pott & Lamp' [Inventories (1716)].

OED earliest date of use: 1705, but earlier versions using Chinese term chaw pot from 1616 under Tea-pot

Found described as BLACK, BLUE, BROWN, COMMON, cream coloured, EARTHEN, Egyptian, ENAMELed, GILT, grotto, half pint, LARGE, PINT, PLAIN, PRINTED, QUART, RED, seconds, SMALL, variegated, WHITE Found describing SLUG Found made of BRASS, CHINA, COPPER, PEWTER, STONE
Found in units of DOZEN

Sources: Acts, Houghton, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Patents, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Ross (2001).

Tea set

[tea sett; tea and coffee set; setts of gilt teas]

A SET of CHINA or EARTHENWARE, typically consisting of cups and saucers, and BOWLs for the slops and for SUGAR, but probably not a TEA POT or milk JUG, which were sold separately. Since drinking tea was a popular activity redolent of fashion and gentility, tea sets were made to match, like those advertised as 'a beautiful Collection of very rich Nankeen, fine Enamelled and Blue and White compleat Tea Sets, consisting of 43 pieces, from £1 11s 6d to £4 14s 6d per Set &c &c' [Newspapers (1780)]. Another tradesman offered 'Tea Setts of different Sizes' and 'Small and Large Part Tea Sets' [Tradecards (1794)].

OED earliest date of use: 1849

Found described as BLUE AND WHITE, COMPLETE, GILT, long, short, of different sizes, YELLOW

Sources: Newspapers, Tradecards.

Tea spoon

[tea-spoon; teaspoon; tea spoone; tea pap and table spoons]

A small SPOON, usually of SILVER or silvered METAL, of a size suitable for stirring TEA in a CUP. It was also commonly used in recipes as a measure, hence 'Tea-spoonful' [Tradecards (1800)], and 'Tea Spoonfuls' [Recipes (Glasse)]. Tea spoons with the TEA TONGS and TEA STRAINER were part of the equipment required for drinking tea. Sometimes all thee came as a set, as in 'eight Tea spoons Strainer & Tongs in a Case' [Inventories (1764)].

OED earliest date of use: 1686

Found described as COMMON, OLD, polished, SMALL, TOY Found made of SILVER
Found in units of DOZEN, SET

Sources: Acts, Inventories (late), Newspapers, Recipes, Tradecards.

Tea strainer

A small SIEVE or STRAINER suitable for straining TEA when it was poured and thus preventing the tea leaves going into the cup. It was often made of SILVER and sometimes designed as a set with the TEA SPOONs, as in '7 small Tea spoons & strainer' [Inventories (1733)] or even in a matching and cased set with the spoons and a pair of TEA TONGS as in 'eight Tea spoons Strainer & Tongs in a Case' [Inventories (1764)]. As an important component for the ceremony of tea making, tea strainers could be highly decorative like the one stolen in 1751 and described as 'a Strainer with a short Handle like a Tea Spoon, and wrought at the End' [Newspapers (1751)]. Although small in size, tea strainers were not exempt from the requirement to stamp all silver with the appropriate marks [Acts (1790)].

Not found in the OED

Found made of SILVER

Sources: Acts, Inventories (late).

Tea table

[tea-table; teatable; tea and dressing tables; tea and card tables]

This could be a TABLE at which TEA was taken or on which tea-things were placed for a meal, as well as a TABLE used for the sale of TEA and refreshments; or more generally a TABLE spread for TEA. It is, however only in the first sense that tea tables have been noted in the Dictionary Archive. In this sense it was a piece of FURNITURE often made by the fashionable cabinet makers. It was a TABLE with a gallery or raised rim round the top, usually made of fretwork. The notion of what should be on a properly equipped tea table is contained in entries like 'An Intire set of Tea table China and two Crack't Bowls' [Inventories (1764)].

OED earliest date of use: 1703, 1804 and 1688 respectively

Found described as with fret, hand, INDIA, JAPANNED, LITTLE, with open work rim, PLAIN Found describing CHINA Found made of CHESTNUT, DEAL, MAHOGANY, OAK

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Tradecards.

Tea tongs

[tea-tongs; tea tonges]

A former name for SUGAR TONGS, usually described as 'a PAIR'. Tea tongs sometimes came in the set of SILVER WARE required for the ritual of tea drinking as in 'eight Tea spoons Strainer & Tongs in a Case' [Inventories (1764)].

OED earliest date of use: 1738

Found described as BROKEN Found made of SILVER

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (late), Tradecards.

Tea tray


A decorative TRAY on which the tea things were placed, rather than the one used to hand round the cups of TEA, which was a TEA WAITER. The two are occasionally found together as in 'Japan Tea Tray and Waiter' [Inventories (1783)]. Like many of the other accoutrements of drinking tea, tea trays attracted the attention of innovators, one of whom at least patented a new way of making tea trays [Patents (1790)].

The Swedish traveller, Reinhold Angerstein, described the complicated process of making a tea tray, which was just one of the many accoutrements of TEA making. He visited a factory in BIRMINGHAM that specialised in their manufacture. The process started from 'semi-finished' metal sheets from BRISTOL, by which he probably meant cut to size, but still in a rough condition. These were then 'pickled, scoured, dried and primed and varnished' before being painted decoratively. He suggested that they sold at prices between 10s 6d and 2 GUINEA depending on size [Angerstein (2001)]. One found in the Dictionary Archive was valued at 15s, confirming that they were expensive items demonstrating their owner's status and gentility [Inventories (1809)].

OED earliest date of use: 1773

Found described as fret, JAPANNED, oval Found made of IRON, MAHOGANY, PAPER

See also TEA BOARD.
Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Tradecards.
References: Angerstein (2001).

Tea tub


Phillips defined a TUB of TEA as a container holding about 60 LB [Phillips (1706)]. In the Dictionary Archive the TUB appears as a common vessel for storing tea among the big dealers, for example [Inventories (1716)], and they seem to have contained up to 60 LB, as Phillips suggested. It was obviously also used as a well-known symbol, since at least one partnership calling themselves 'Grocers and Confectioners' gave their address as 'At the Tea-Tub' [Tradecards (18c.)].

OED earliest date of use: 1706 as Tub of tea

Sources: Inventories (late), Tradecards.
References: Phillips (1706).

Tea urn

[tea-urn; tea and coffee urns; tea & coffee urns]

A tea urn was an URN with a tap, placed upon a TEA TABLE, to hold hot water for making TEA. Since they were usually tended for public display, they were often decorative in shape and style, and made of COPPER or SILVER rather than iron. If the former, they would need tinning inside, a rather more complex operation than tinning a simple cooking vessel [Patents (1673)]; [Patents (1783)]. Their structure also required welded joints, which attracted innovators to finding simpler - or cheaper - methods of doing it [Patents (1799)]. Tea urns often came with their own stand, some of which probably contained their own lamp, to keep the water hot [Inventories (1783)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1786

Found described as COUNTRY made, LONDON, LARGE, middle, SMALL, town made

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Tradecards.

Tea waiter

[tea-waiter; tea tray and waiter]

The term refers to a SALVER or small TRAY used for handing round cups of TEA. Like much TEA WARE, tea waiters were fashionable items, attracting the attention of innovators in decorative metal work [Patents (1783)].

OED earliest date of use: 1802 as a 'waiter' on which tea was carried

Found described as JAPAN

Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents.

Tea ware

Utensils for serving TEA, including CHINA, TEA CADDY, TEA CUP, TEA KETTLE, TEA POT, TEA SPOON, TEA STRAINER, TEA TABLE, often found in a SET either of the necessary china ware or of the SILVERWARE, for example [Inventories (1764)]. Early British tea ware made of china roughly emulated the Chinese style , but later models branched out, flaunting the skills of their makers and responding to the dictates of more Westernised fashions.

OED earliest date of use: 1766

Found made of CHINA Found in units of SET

See also TEA SET.
Sources: Inventories (late).
References: Ross (2001).