Category Archives: Tea History

4 Facts about the history of tea in America (that you didn’t know)

Tea’s big moment in American history happened in 1773, when colonists threw more than 300 crates of it into Boston Harbor.

Chai Tea Chick; Boston Tea Party; Tea in American history
Source: U.S. History Images

Along with Christopher Columbus, the Mayflower Compact, and Thanksgiving, the Boston Tea Party is probably the event American children learn about most in our history classes.

Since then, America has had a rocky relationship with tea, filled with innovations, setbacks, and oddities. So, sit down and get out your pens and notebooks. Today, you’re getting a history lesson, and, yes, you may see this material on your exam.

1. The Dutch, not the English, brought tea to America.

The English are known for their love, bordering on obsession, for tea, but the Dutch were the trendsetters when it came to tisanes in the New World. The Dutch brought tea to their American colony, New Amsterdam, or New York as we know it today, in the 1650s. Apparently, the Dutch settlement drank more tea at the time than all of England. It wasn’t until the late 1600s that English colonists started to get into the tea business.

2. There was another Boston Tea Party.

Chai Tea Chick; Boston Tea Party; Tea in American history
Source: U.S. History Images

Like many blockbusters today, the patriots released a lesser-quality sequel to the Boston Tea Party the next year. The second Boston Tea Party happened in 1774 after Britain had passed the Port Bill to punish Massachusetts for the previous one by putting strict restrictions on Boston Harbor.

In response to the bill and more tea troubles, the colonists decided to rinse and repeat their famous act of rebellion, although to a lesser scale. Fifty to sixty men dressed up like Native Americans, took a trading ship hostage, and dumped the chests of tea.

This is how I imagine the conversation went when deciding to do another Tea Party (in brospeak): 

Patriot 1: We can’t take this abuse anymore, man. We have to protest.

Patriot 2: You’re right, man, we should totally do that. But let’s make it original, something that will blow their minds.

The two patriots think. 

Patriot 1: Hey, why don’t we dress up like Indians and, like, raid a ship and dump out its tea?

Patriot 2: Didn’t we do that last year?

Patriot 1: And was it not awesome?

The patriots begin getting out the feathers they wore last year. 

The second Tea Party didn’t have nearly the impact the first one did, but it solidified English anger toward the colonists and showed the patriots certainly didn’t regret the first one.

3. The tea bag was invented in America.

The tea bag, as I mentioned previously, is America’s great claim to fame in the tea world, but it was actually invented by accident. In the early 1900s, New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan began sending loose tea to customers in silken bags. The customers thought the bags were supposed to serve as infusers and put them directly into their tea cups.

When Sullivan heard comments about it from customers, he recognized a bright idea and began packaging all his that way. The tea bag caught on, and by the 1920s, tea bags were being mass produced.

4. Green and black tea were equally popular before WWII.

Today, black tea dominates the American tea market–more than 80 percent of tea consumed in America is black. Green tea, on the other hand, has gained a reputation as the new-agey tea for health nuts. It wasn’t always like this.

Before WWII, Americans drank about 40 percent black tea, 40 percent green, and 20 percent oolong. That changed when trade routes were cut off from China and Japan, and Americans received nearly all their tea imports from India, which only makes black tea.

By the end of the war, the American desire for green tea had all but disappeared. For those of us who love green tea, though, thankfully it’s growing in popularity. It looks like we may be getting back into our habits as a tea-drinking society, as I’m sure the Dutch had always hoped this great nation would be.