Part of an author’s job is promotion and every now and then a unique opportunity for promotion comes along. My publisher arranged for my next book, A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder, to be featured in a magazine about tea. It’s a beautiful magazine and I have no doubt the photograph of the book will be wonderful, so this is very exciting! The rub is I have to provide a short article or essay about tea—a beverage I don’t drink and know nothing about.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be worried. I’m capable of learning and there’s plenty of information about tea out in the world. But this is for a magazine about TEA. This is for tea experts written by tea experts. Yikes! Whatever I learn, I’d better learn it well. Also, it should be on a topic they haven’t covered already. After reviewing back issues, I realized that will be challenging.
If not a new topic, maybe just a different slant. The characters in my books drink a lot of tea, but Frances, my main character, is American and prefers coffee, which would not be available just any old place in 1899 in London. When she pays calls, she can’t expect her friends to serve coffee. The local drink of choice is tea. Why? London used to be a city packed with coffee houses. What happened?
So, I gathered the following facts about England and the switch from coffee to tea.
As late as the mid-1600s, there were as many as 2,000 coffee houses in the city of London.
In 1660 King Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, who was Portuguese.
Portugal had a good trading relationship with China, at that time the only place to find tea, so it wasn’t surprising that crates of tea were part of Catherine’s dowry.
England did not have a great trading relationship with China at that time and tea was very expensive to import. A pound of tea could cost as much as an average worker earned in a year. Meanwhile, coffee still came pretty cheaply from Ceylon.
Over time, upper-class Britons began mimicking the Queen’s daily tea drinking, but they were the only ones who could afford to do so.
Around 1780, fate intervened. Ceylon’s coffee crops were destroyed by fungus. Grains that were used for beer, suffered two bad harvests, putting the price of beer out of reach for the average person. To counter this problem, the government reduced import fees from over 100% to a mere 12% so grain could be imported cheaply. This also dropped the price of tea.
Since coffee couldn’t be had and tea was down to a reasonable price, the switch was made. By the time coffee was back on the market, tea was an established crop in India and even cheaper than before. Once people had developed a taste for tea, they didn’t want to return to coffee. (Kind of a Coke vs Pepsi thing)
And this is why, by 1899, my American girl can’t find a decent cup of coffee in London. But there’s plenty of tea!