Jane to a Tea: A Few Facts about Jane & Tea, by Kirstin Odegaard

Jane to a Tea: A Few Facts about Jane & Tea, by Kirstin Odegaard

Jane loved a good steaming cup of tea.  In a letter to Cassandra, Jane wrote, “Let me know when you begin the new Tea.  I am still a Cat if I see a Mouse.”

And Miss Bates in Emma gives us this little gem: “No coffee, I thank you, for me—never take coffee.—A little tea if you please.”

Then, when Mr. Collins tells Elizabeth that she will soon be graced with the ever-coveted invitation from Lady Catherine, what is the invitation to?  Tea, of course!

There’s no question about it.  Jane loved her tea.  (Oh, Jane.  I’ve always known we’d be bosom buddies if we’d been born in the same century.)  This month, in honor of Jane’s devotion to the lovely beverage, enjoy some tantalizing facts about tea.

  1. Jane was the tea keeper.

Jane was in charge of making her family’s breakfast every morning, including their tea.  This meant that she held the keys to the locked tea cabinet.  That’s right.  Tea was not just left lying around.  It was expensive (sometimes taxed over 100%) and prone to being stolen by servants.  The high prices kept tea out of the hands of the poor, which is why…

  1. Tea enjoyed a healthy black market.

Question: What do you call a tea smuggler?

Answer: A leaf thief!

(Because it rhymes, see?  So that’s funny.  Everyone knows the best jokes are the ones you have to explain.)

Actually, tea smugglers referred to themselves as free traders, and, if caught, traders could be hung or (gasp!) transported to the colonies.  Despite this, tea smuggling flourished, becoming one of Great Britain’s major industries.  In fact, in areas near the coasts, so many men were drawn to free trading that there were not enough workers for the farms.

Tea tycoon Richard Twining believed that half the tea drunk in England was smuggled.  Even clergymen bought smuggled tea.  (But surely not Mr. Collins?  No, leaves from ill-gotten sources could never have passed his lips.)

  1. Speaking of those unruly colonies, the Boston Tea Party revolutionaries threw the modern equivalent of a million dollars’ worth of tea into the harbor.

That’s a lot of tea!  The revolution worked out well for me, so I can’t complain.  But I would have been pretty disappointed if I’d been invited to that tea party.  (“Hello, boys!  Are the tea cakes below decks?  Where are the pretty tea pots?  Wait!  I was still drinking that!”)

  1. Smuggled tea tasted…off.

During transport, smuggled tea was packed in oilskin bags on boats, and then repackaged in sacks carried by horses on land.  It turns out that horse sweat and oil make for rotten tea, so many believed legal tea was worth the added expense.

  1. Not to be outmaneuvered, the black market found other sources of smuggled tea.

Servants scraped together their employers’ used tea leaves, aired them out, and sold them out the back door to dealers.  The leaves were dyed to look new and resold.

Question: What did the tea feel when it got a second life?

Answer: Re-leaf!

(OK, but that one was practically begging me to type it.)

Fake tea was also made from tree leaves, sheep poop and (wait for it) poison.  Copperas, that lovely toxin that brought us black ink and gunpowder, could now be mixed into your cuppa at a healthy surcharge.

Guess those servants got their employers back for locking up the tea.

  1. Tea for breakfast was controversial.

While Catherine of Braganza, Charles II’s wife, is credited with being England’s first tea drinking queen, it was Queen Anne who popularized the custom of tea for breakfast.

What did people used to drink for breakfast, you ask?  Alcohol!  (It was cleaner than the water.)  Beef and ale made up the breakfast of choice until Queen Anne started taking tea and toast, and the upper classes of course had to follow this trend.

So which is the breakfast of champions: beef and ale or tea and toast?  This became a decades long debate.  In fact, Washington Irving, in his Sketchbook (1819), describes a gentleman he met in England who condemned the tea and toast breakfast as the cause “of modern effeminacy and weak nerves and the decline of old English heartiness.”

So, keep calm and carry on.  But if you have tea and toast for breakfast, you’re weak and contributing to the decline of all of England.

Question: What were tea drinkers’ biggest worries?

Answer: The ales of British life

(Okay, okay.  That’s the last one.)

  1. Jane did not take cream in her tea.

In a letter to Cassandra, Jane writes about a mutual friend, saying, “There are two Traits in her Character which are pleasing; namely, she admires Camilla, & drinks no cream in her Tea.” 

I don’t take cream in my tea either, Jane!  I’ll go ahead and assume that means you think my character is pleasing.

I do have tea for breakfast, though.  Sorry, England.

What about you?  Tea or coffee?  Or beef and ale?  Cream and sugar with your coffee/ tea/ ale?  (I take my tea BLACK because I am serious about staining my teeth.)

Or you could share a tea joke!  No, you’re right.  I set the bar pretty high with that one.  Best to stick to telling me your beverage of choice.


I got most of my info from this lovely source: Wilson, Kim. Tea with Jane Austen. Frances Lincoln, 2011.


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April 28, 2022 12:18 AM

Cream in tea is a trage-tea, but I do like a little milk. 🙂

May 1, 2022 5:10 PM
Reply to  ElizaDevlin

Cream is too heavy for tea. If you must have a lightener, stick to milk.

April 26, 2022 7:37 PM

I’m ashamed to say that I only drink iced tea. Sorry Jane.

Caryl Kane
Caryl Kane
April 25, 2022 3:40 PM

Wonderful post! I enjoy a cuppa while reading.

Mr. Colin
Mr. Colin
April 24, 2022 9:32 PM

Great article! I liked the tea facts and tea puns. It was interesting to learn about how tea was smuggled back then. I like to drink tea. It is tast-tea! Coming up with tea puns takes creativi-tea!

Gianna Thomas
April 24, 2022 1:08 PM

Fun article about tea, Kirstin, including Jane Austen’s thoughts. I’m not a big tea drinker, but when I do drink tea, it is herbal. I like ginger tea with sugar or with a ginger syrup with stevia. Yes I do like my tea sweet. No cream. For breakfast, I usually have orange juice mixed with my liquid minerals and vitamins followed by my caffeine of choice: Mexican coke made with cane sugar and in glass bottles. I like to think it is more healthy. 🙂 As to the smugglers in past days and how they handled the tea (or the pretend product), I was rather appalled. I’m rather glad I live in modern times than back then. 🙂

May 1, 2022 5:14 PM
Reply to  Gianna Thomas

Sorry Gianna but herbal is not tea, it is tisane or infusion. Only the beverage made with leaves of Camellia sinensis is tea. After Jane’s father died and the family was in some financial straits, much of Jane’s “tea” was in fact made from flowers and herbs from their garden.

April 23, 2022 11:46 PM

Great tea facts and puns!
I like to go to tea shops.??

tea cup.jpg
Last edited 1 month ago by LITBE
Captain Wentworth
Captain Wentworth
April 23, 2022 7:57 PM

This article was totally tea-riffic! I’ve been waiting oolong, long time for this.

I really enjoyed reading about the history of Tea. I prefer sweetened tea, and enjoy the iced variety as well. Varie-tea is the spice of life!

You have to admit these puns are quali-tea.

Linny B
Linny B
April 23, 2022 1:16 AM

Really enjoyed facts about tea!

J. W. Garrett.
J. W. Garrett.
April 22, 2022 12:32 PM

Tea joke for gentlefolk? Sorry, don’t get me started. Those were hilarious. I’m a coffee person in the morning. However, I may try tea. I have tea on hand; I don’t know why I never considered it for breakfast. I do take creamer in my coffee… if International Delight ever quits making Southern Butter Pecan… I may go into withdrawals.

I thought of that Boston Tea Party when you first started talking about the cost of tea and didn’t realize the tax was so high. Whew! What an expensive party for sure. Imagine the investors learning about their lost shipment. They had made it safely across the Atlantic to Boston Harbor… avoiding pirates and surviving the weather [it was November] only to be lost in the harbor before it was even unloaded. Whew! That had to hurt someone’s pocket. Hmmm… lost investments… need a plot bunny, anyone? Elizabeth Bennet was 20 in 1811. TBTP was in 1773 [18 years before she was born]. Someone we know in P&P or their friends and/or family could have lost money during that time.

This was an interesting post. I had heard of counterfeit tea. I read somewhere that they’d sweep the floor and add that to the concoction they were passing off as tea. Ugh! I think I’ll fix myself a cuppa to soothe my nerves. Blessings.

May 1, 2022 5:16 PM
Reply to  J. W. Garrett.

Drinking recycled tea (used tea leaves purchased from servants) was a real danger. Many of the additives they used to make it look like fresh leaves were quite toxic.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
April 22, 2022 10:29 AM

My Mom and I drink tea, but only with sugar no cream and usually at supper not breakfast. Very interesting post,I may have to check out that book!lol

Linda A.
Linda A.
April 22, 2022 9:59 AM

I don’t drink tea OR coffee. Never have. Neither does my sister or her husband. Mom and Dad have to provide their own coffee pot and coffee when they visit.

May 1, 2022 5:29 PM
Reply to  Linda A.

Lol! We have also told guests that if they want coffee in our house they’d better bring their own — we do always have good quality (loose leaf) tea in the house, and I love to fix a potful for guests, but never coffee. DH and I have tea in the morning when we get up, before breakfast, and often a second potful in the afternoon. BTW, I often laugh at JAFFs and dramatizations that have Jane’s characters taking “afternoon tea.” (Or the mis-identified “high tea,” which was actually the evening meal in working-class homes and also called “meat tea.”) This mini-meal was not created until 1840 by one of Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting, after gas was laid on in wealthier houses and people began to dine later and later until it became a long stretch between breakfast and supper. Regency-era folks did do a lot of snacking throughout the day, including tea, usually with bread and butter but sometimes with sweets. Thank you for this article KIrstin.

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