6th
Mar
2013

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 problem.

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