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An english beverage of choice
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It took between twelve and fifteen months for precious shipments of tea to travel to Britain by sea. The costs of bringing the tea from halfway across the globe, and heavy taxation, meant that initially only the wealthy enjoyed it in its unadulterated form. By 1707 tea smuggled from Holland was booming on the black market, and much of it was padded out with unmentionable substances. Discerning – and law-abiding – tea drinkers flocked to Fortnum & Mason to buy pure (and purely legal) tea, including strong black teas, that had been created especially to withstand the long journey westwards.

An english beverage of choice

A special tea flyer, 1930

The eighteenth century saw the amount of tea drunk in England grow by a staggering 225 per cent, and Fortnum & Mason can lay claim to some small contribution to the rise in its popularity. In 1784, the government gave in to the inevitable and decided to battle the smugglers by reducing tax on tea from 119 per cent to just 121/2 per cent. Now nearly everyone could drink tea legally. It soon became a popular breakfast drink, replacing ale and gin, and gradually it became the drink to enjoy at any time of the day.

An english beverage of choice

The same century saw coffee houses fall out of favour, to be replaced by elegant open-air tea gardens, which enjoyed the patronage of the most fashionable in society. Perhaps the most famous were Ranelagh Gardens in Chelsea, which opened in 1742, its principal feature being a rotunda designed on the Pantheon in Rome. Entry to the gardens cost two shillings and six pence (around 121/2 p), which – of course – included tea! One of its most famous visitors was Mozart, who played there for the Duke of Cumberland.

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