Posted in Kafevend Blog
After the excesses of Christmas and New Year's there are always plenty of folk who decide to pursue an alcohol free January. That inclination to detoxify, coupled with many a New Year's resolution, means that tea is more likely to be poured into our cups today than whisky or wine. It's rather like the story of Georgian gin ridden Britain in microcosm. Allow us to explain...
Originally a Dutch invention, gin had been introduced to Britain when William of Orange became King in 1688. Before long it was being produced cheaply in Britain thanks to the lifting of production restrictions. In other news- by the 1700s the poorer areas of London had become overcrowded with slums and the masses were forced to endure grim lives there. Put these two facts together and the low price of gin meant that it became the drink of choice for the working classes who were only too happy to find some kind of relief from their life of squalor.
The downside to gin's popularity and easy availability was the drunkenness, crime and general social discord that we associate with binge drinking to this day. Realizing that something had to be done about the situation, the government passed an Act of Parliament in 1736 known as the Gin Act, which attempted to make selling gin more expensive for the producers and so, in turn, for the drinkers. However, they hadn't reckoned on the ingenuity of bootleggers; the drink continued to leave its mark on society until another Gin Act in 1751, coupled with a run of failed harvests which pushed grain prices up, finally stopped the gin epidemic in its tracks. People had to find something else to drink and increasingly that something was tea.
Tea had been introduced to Britain in the 1600s, but at that time was out of the financial reach of ordinary people. As the 1700s wore on the high taxes imposed on tea led inevitably to tea smuggling. Ironically, it was the smugglers who were responsible for making tea affordable to the masses and providing an alternative to gin. Eventually, in 1783, newly elected William Pitt the Younger, cut the tax on tea imports from 119% to a far more reasonable 12.5% and so legal tea dropped in price enough that everyone could buy it and the smugglers had to look elsewhere for their livelihood.
In the following century the Victorian era brought with it a new high moral tone and the Temperance movement was formed. It was influential in promoting not only tea, but also coffee and cocoa as alternatives to alcohol. Amongst the key members of the Temperance movement were Quakers such as John Cadbury, who was determined to help alleviate poverty and deprivation. Prior to the company's concentration on the cocoa bean, John Cadbury sold tea, coffee and cocoa from his Birmingham shop. Where the products had once been beyond the reach of many in society, now there was a viable alternative to alcohol. Britain sobered up, and all thanks to our three favourite hot drinks. Enjoy a cup today!