Apr 23, 2019 IN Seaport
Hi-story of Seaport: Tea
Welcome to the second edition of Hi-story of Seaport, our series on events in your favorite marine game. Today we will have a closer look at the Tea Time event and its main protagonist, Thomas Lipton.
Whether you are a tea or a coffee lover you must admit that tea trade was an important part of naval history. As such we decided to cover a small part of it in the current event.
Who of you doesn’t know the Lipton tea? But not many of you will also know the story behind this popular brand. This April, Seaport will take you on a voyage with the British entrepreneur Thomas Lipton on his way to a become a tea magnate. So bring a cup of your preferred beverage and find out what lies behind our newest story.
Origins of the beloved green plant
Camellia sinensis is a plant that yields all kinds of tea. Black, green, white, they all come from this one inconspicuous bush originated in Southeast Asia. Tea was first used in Yunnan province of China as a medicinal drink during the Shang dynasty (1500 BC–1046 BC). The popular herbal drink was slowly spreading to the neighboring countries and up to the Middle East. The first Europeans to taste tea were Portuguese merchants visiting China in the 16th century. However, they did not bring any of the plants back to Europe. This was done later by the Dutch who brought some of the tea to Amsterdam in the early 17th century. From there it was only a short voyage to Britain. Tea became popular in Britain during the 17th century and found its way even to the Royal Court of King Charles II. The import of tea to Britain was handled by the British East India Company which got their tea from China.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Chinese started to require silver bullion as a payment for tea. This made the commodity much more expensive than before. The British looked for new ways how to finance the purchase of tea. The answer to their problems was opium grown in the British colonies. The demand for opium in China was large and for a time this trade was helping the British pay for the Chinese tea. Until the Emperor imposed taxes on opium and the First Opium War began.
The British realized that looking for a new source of tea might be more convenient. After smuggling tea plants from China, first tea gardens were established in India. Later a tea plant native to the Assam region in India was discovered too. The largest tea plantations were planted in Assam, Darjeeling, and Ceylon.
Ceylon and tea
The first tea plantation on Ceylon was established in 1867 by James Taylor. Taylor arrived on Ceylon when he was 17. At this time, the island was known for its production of coffee. However, a sudden fungus epidemic destroyed most of the coffee plants. Taylor obtained a tea plant from Assam and saw his chance to start a new business. He planted the first tea garden on the Loolecondera estate in Kandy. As Taylor's export of tea rose other estates on the island started growing tea. In the 1890s, Thomas Lipton visited British Ceylon and met Taylor. They discussed business and agreed that Lipton’s company would buy Ceylon tea from Taylor.
Thomas Lipton, the tea magnate
Thomas Lipton was born in Glasgow, on 10th May 1848. Lipton had a warm relationship with ships from an early age. As a young boy, he served as a cabin boy on a steamer running between Glasgow and Belfast. After a visit to the United States, Lipton returned to Glasgow and opened his first provision shop, Lipton's Market, in 1871. His success allowed him to expand his business and soon he had a chain of groceries all across Britain. In 1888, Lipton entered the tea trade and opened his tea-tasting office. He was looking for the new ways to purchase tea so he could offer it for affordable prices to the working class. Focusing on this yet untapped market was helped him establish the famous Lipton tea brand. Lipton purchased his own tea gardens and closed a deal with James Taylor from British Ceylon.
That is the story of two men and tea. Finish the cup of your preferred hot beverage and then hurry back to Seaport to finish the Tea Event.