The Social Ills of Drinking Tea

As winter closes in here in the higher hemisphere, you might feel a pull toward a cup of hot tea. As somebody who generally approaches social issues with a laissez-faire attitude, I think that’s a fine idea. But know this: If you lived in England around the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries — roughly the time tea became inseparable from British culture — such an inclination might attract some serious shade.

Historian Emily Brand documents the attitudes some social conservatives (like, real conservative) had toward tea drinking in 18th century England, in the bluntly titled blog post, “Can drinking tea turn you into a whore?” While tea hating appears to have had a few notable cultural figures among its ranks, pamphleteer and journalist William Cobbett led the charge. Brand quotes from his 1822 publication, Cottage Economy:

Tea drinking fills the public house, makes the frequentingof it habitual, corrupts boys as soon as they are able to move from home, and does little less for the girls, to whom the gossip of the tea table is no bad preparatory school for the brothel… the girl that has been brought up merely to boil the tea kettle, and assist in the gossip inseparable from the practice, is a mere consumer of food, a pest to her employer, and a curse to her husband, if any man be so unfortunate as tofix his affections upon her.

 Cobbett offered a remedy for this social ill, though, Brand notes. Every house, he suggested, should be stocked with “its good and wholesome Beer.”

photo credit: Laura Fan, Creative Commons/flickr