Posted in Reference
Tea has been an essential
part of life in the UK for a very long time indeed. The right to a
steady supply of hot tea is taken for granted, like the air we
breathe. We drink it at home, at work, on trains, in restaurants and
cafés and even down the
pub. My cupboards are always stocked with a choice of 'normal', Earl
Grey and what one friend refers to as hippy tea, i.e. fruit/herbal!
Now I knew that rationing
was a feature of the second world war, but naively I hadn't expected
something as elemental as tea to have been included, but included it
was and for quite some considerable time too.
The UK was importing
somewhere in the region of 55 million tons of food a year prior to
the war, but once war had been declared the government was impelled
to cut down on imports as German U-boats began their assault on
British supply ships. Realizing that shortages would inevitably lead
to panic buying, hoarding, price increases and unfairness in
distribution, rationing was soon introduced. Bacon, butter and sugar
were rationed as early as January 1940, but tea soon followed in July
of the same year. The amount of any one product available varied as
supply went up and down, but by and large tea was restricted to 2oz
per person per week. This equates to about 18 teabags, although loose
leaf tea prevailed back then, so I imagine one would have felt
compelled to reduce the strength of a pot of tea and to have drained
the pot each time to prevent any waste. This was certainly an era of
waste not want not, of 'digging for victory'; everyone was encouraged
to supplement their food rations by tending an allotment and by
turning over their lawns and flower beds to fruit and vegetables. It
goes without saying that the tea plant needs a rather warmer climate
than we can offer here, so tea remained a precious commodity.
Incidentally, coffee was one of the products never to be rationed in
this country, whereas in the United States, where coffee enjoyed a
wide popularity, it was rationed from November 1942.
Rationing didn't end with
the war; it wasn't until 1954 that restrictions were totally lifted.
Tea rationing finished in 1952 once the UK had got back into the
international tea trading arena and supply chains were robust again.
However, as the amount of tea permitted had been increased to the
pre-war average consumption of 3oz per person per week , a sudden
increase in demand was avoided. Still, it must have been reassuring
to know that an insatiable thirst for tea would no longer present a