The History of Tea


Tea in America

Though the Dutch American colony of New Amsterdam was introduced to tea before England discovered it, the English colonists didn't hear about tea until 1670 -- about 20 years after England first enjoyed the drink. By 1720, tea was regular cargo on British trade ships headed to America. The colonists, like their British counterparts, turned to smuggling tea to avoid the high taxes imposed on it.

Widespread smuggling cost the East India Company -- the only British company allowed to legally import tea -- dearly. They lobbied Parliament, which granted the company the exclusive right to ship tea to America duty free, undercutting the smugglers and causing rumbles of rebellion among the colonists. The colonists registered their indignation in one of the most famous protests of all time: the Boston Tea Party.

On December 16, 1773, a group of Bostonians dressed as Native Americans boarded an East India Company ship loaded with 342 crates of tea. They threw every box of tea into Boston Harbor, costing the East India Company about $1 million in today's currency. In response, England closed the port and Parliament passed laws known as the Intolerable Acts that limited the political rights of colonists. These punitive measures helped unite the colonies against British rule. Tea was one of the sparks that ignited the American Revolution.

To learn more about the tea trade around the world, go to the next page.

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