Like other items imported into England, tea brought the larger world of trade into the domestic sphere (Fromer, 27). The British aristocracy frowned on those engaging in “commerce,” but before the East India Company’s monopoly on tea imports, the first tea importers were gentlemen who obtained tea from Holland and sold it to the friends. As J.M. Scott says in The Great Tea Venture, “Tea was above being commercial – it was a status symbol,” and in the upper classes, this status symbol was highly sought after (90).
The British learned how to brew tea properly, which improving the taste considerably. Drinking tea also brought men and women together for longer periods of time and on more equal terms. Afternoon tea became a part of normal life for the upper classes, when ladies and gentlemen gathered for a small meal of sandwiches, pastries, and large quantities of the beverage. They would reacquaint with one another, share each other’s company and ideas, and the ceremony and preparation of an afternoon tea was made more attractive by the rarity and cost of the drink (Scott, 90).
London coffee houses were popular places for gentlemen to gather, socialize, and discuss matters of the day. Coffee houses served coffee, chocolate, sherbet, and tailored their shops to individual characters of the male, upper class: Whigs, Tories, poets, law, business, and the clergy. The Crown was already taxing other luxury items, like tobacco and alcohol, and the fare sold at coffee houses. When coffee houses changed into teahouses, the clientele remained, and the shop owners did not miss the opportunity to pass the additional tea tax on to the customer (Scott, 152).