Rare household bill reveals early reference to tea in Britain

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One of the earliest references in Britain to tea, dated 1644, has been discovered by the curator at a historic house in Yorkshire.

What would eventually become Britain’s favorite tipple was referred to on a household bill as “China drink”.

Rachel Conroy, from Temple Newsam House in Leeds, discovered the reference to China drink in a hand-written apothecary bill for medicinal ingredients bought for the estate in 1644.

It listed bottles of China Drink each costing four shillings, which in modern British currency is 20 pence, or just over 27 U.S. cents.

The bill is thought to be one of the earliest known written references to tea in England, predating the famous text by celebrated British diarist Samuel Pepys, who in 1660 wrote “afterwards I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I never had drank before.”

Conroy made the discovery as she leafed through documents at West Yorkshire Archives as she researched for information for an upcoming exhibition on beer.

Conroy said: “This document is an exciting discovery which shows the people who once lived at Temple Newsam were real northern trend-setters of their day and were among the first in the country to enjoy a cup of tea centuries before it became such a staple in all our homes.”

“Although it may be strange today for us to think of it as an unusual, exotic drink, back in the 1640s, tea had only just begun to make its way to England and would probably have been something of a novelty and quite a status symbol.”

Temple Newsam House, one of the most celebrated country houses in Britain, has an important collection of British ceramics, including many used for making and serving tea.

A spokesperson for Leeds City Council said: “The fascinating document… has revealed those who once called the estate home could have been among the very first people in the country to ever pop the kettle on.”

“Tea is believed to have spread to Europe from its Asian homeland in the mid to late 1500s, but didn’t become popular in Britain until much later.”

William Gorman from the UK Tea Association, said China drink would have been an extremely expensive green tea. He said finding the list was a lovely and very special find and fitted with the known history of tea. The association says 165 million cups are now drunk in Britain every day.

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