It’s amazing what you can learn in school.
Take my introductory international studies class, for instance. Yesterday, we learned about why we put sugar in our tea.
You wouldn’t think it, but sugar has a pretty interesting history. Up until 1680, sugar was an exclusive product. The upper class used it as a symbol of their power, but if you were a member of the lower classes, sugar had no place in your diet. However, with the ending of the feudal system, there was an increase in landless, poor, urban labour. These people were in need of cheap calories. At the same time, free trade advocates overcame the arguments of mercantilists, who favoured government regulation of sugar, and so trade opened up and sugar becamewidely available to the working classes. By the 1700s, sugar was showing up everywhere- even in medicines.
As expansion increased global trade, coffee, cocoa, and especially tea were all imported from new areas. These bitter drinks needed a sweetener. Voila! Sugar! Because of the British presence in China and India, hot, sweet tea became an essential drink, especially for the working classes. It acted as a stimulant, and provided the necessary calories to make it through a long day in the factories. It also gave the illusion of a hot meal, and boiling water ensured a safe drink. Drinking tea even gave the lower classes a feeling that they were emulating the wealthy.
Pretty soon, afternoon tea was not just the fashionable thing, it was a regular institution. As my professor says, tea and sugar was the 1800’s version of “Red Bull.”
The global circulation of a particular commodity (sugar) plus industrialization and proletariatization shaped national taste. In other words, the Industrial Revolution created tea time.
All those crazy connections. I love it!