Tea Times

Our fascination with tea imported from China  began in the early 17th century and within one hundred years it had become a national institution.  One chief protagonist was Samuel Pepys who, in his diaries claimed that drinking the beverage was a cure for his wife's  "defluxions". By the 1720's specific tables were being made by leading London craftsmen for the ceremony of taking tea and ladies who were invited to "the tea table" would take a katy (caddy) of tea as we would take a bottle of wine to a dinner party today.  The problem of transporting the tea from the caddy to the teapot was solved first by Lady Lauderdale who used the lid of the sugar bowl as a carrier, but when in the 1740's tea leaves were chopped fine our industrious silversmiths developed a short-handled spoon with a disproportionately large bowl and the caddy spoon was invented, to be used well into the 20th century. Apart from the manufacture of silver and furniture there was hardly any branch of domestic industry that was not affected beneficially by the demand for tea and its consumption.  Josiah Wedgwood made a fortune out of producing his fine ceramic tea wares, the cups of which would crack when filled with boiling water.  Thus began the habit of putting the milk in first. While the accoutrements considered necessary for the polite serving at the tea table - tea pot, cream jug, sugar bowl, hot water jug, tea urn, tea and caddy spoons, sugar tongs and the tea caddy, the presentation to the public of the raw material required the craft of tinsmiths and decorators to produce the toleware display cannisters that enlivened every upper-crust grocer's shop throughout the country. Many of these were made in Pontypool and the finest were decorated with 'japanning' in gold and bright colours with scenes of Chinese figures in a variety of settings.  Originally made in large sets to occupy a wall space, it is rare to find a good single one today. While we still drink tea it is more often without the ceremony, making the words "one for each cup and one for the pot" magically nostalgic for a bygone age.