Posted in Kafevend Blog
What makes a cup- Sugar
With our epic on the subject of porcelain
finally at an end, today we move on to consider something that, at first glance, may appear quite paltry by comparison- sugar. Although it may seem such a simple thing, the practice of adding sugar to our tea in fact hints to some of the most dominant factors in play during the time of Britain's empire building. Join us then as we explore the role of sugar (and tea) in our nation's sometimes less than illustrious history!
East and West
For Britain's empire in the East, tea was the driving force behind a great deal of its actions. At first it was bought from the Chinese, who held a monopoly on its sale. Their demand for little other than silver bullion to trade and their (rather justified) reprisals against smugglers bringing opium into their country led to war on several occasions between them and several European nations. However, the British found a way to break their monopoly- and forge one of their own- when they discovered that they could grow tea in nearby India. With this alternate source established and under their control, tea was able to flood into Britain.
On the other side of the globe, those with an eye for profiteering instead turned to sugar. Every European nation present, including Britain, turned great swathes of their Carribean holdings over to sugar. The labour intensive and low tech nature of its production led to the widespread use of slavery in the area, both in order to provide enough labour and to make it financially viable. Amongst other factors, the British abolitionist movement was able to gain significant traction when the cost began to rise for the British in the face of French domination in the sugar industry.
The reason for such cut throat practices abroad was due to the ever increasing demand back home in Britain. Coffee fell by the wayside as tea became the nation's drink of choice, and Britain's developing sweet tooth saw a craze for more and more sugar. One of those who advocated bringing the two together was Thomas Tryon, an English merchant and author of many self help books.
Tryon was fairly forward thinking for the age. He was an advocate of abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, and was also one of the early advocates of vegetarianism in the West after being influenced by Hindu teachings.Tryon travelled to Barbados during the middle of the 17th century, but soon returned to London when he was appalled by the treatment of slaves on the plantations. He ended up writing twenty seven works on several topics near and dear to him. Education, nutrition and the treatment of slaves featured, but it was his self help books that netted him the most fame. It was in one of these that he recommended a pinch of sugar in tea was the best way to enjoy the taste of sugar without affecting your health- obviously this was before we knew the extent of sugar's effects!
References:The tea shelfThomas Tryon