The English Tea-Table: The Domestic Feminisation Of An Exotic Commodity, From The Arrival Of Tea In England circa 1660 To 1760, Maggie Henderson-Tew
‘Along with air and water, tea is the most widely-consumed substance on the planet.’1 This rather startling statement underlines the position of tea as England’s, and the world’s2, most popular drink. Along with other exotic luxuries3 from the Orient, tea was introduced into England in the mid-seventeenth century. The use of tea helped to define class and gender and played a significant role in the development of taste and fashion within wealthy elite society. Although tea-drinking and enjoyment was, of course, not limited to women, it is the rapidly-feminised nature of tea-drinking during the first hundred years of its use in England that I explore here, using two material objects as illustration. The first artefact is a physical object, a tea-table. This item of domestic furniture was made in England around 1760, and is in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (Fig 1, below). The second object is a painting of ‘An English Family at Tea’ (Fig 2, below), c. 1720, by the Flemish artist working in London, Joseph Van Aken.