The Tea Caddy in Britain
Although it is believed that tea was first served in coffee houses in London as early as 1658, it was popularised after 1962 when Charles II married Catherine of Braganza who brought the tea drinking habit with her from the continent. London coffee houses in the 17th century were solely frequented by gentlemen and often places where business was conducted. Catherine's love of tea drinking made it fashionable at court for ladies and the habit soon spread to aristocratic circles and then to the wealthier classes. With the popularity of tea drinking together with its high cost (import duties and the East India Company’s monopoly on importing tea keeping the price artificially high for most of the 18th century), came the need for tea canisters and lockable tea chests.
Early tea canisters were porcelain (ginger jar shaped) and later, silver - with earliest examples dating from the early 18th century. By the end of the 17th century tea canisters were being made in pairs since both green tea was being imported from China as well as black tea from India - and it was considered desirable to have both on offer at the tea table. These canisters were placed in a lockable chest to prevent theft - usually with the maid in mind! Most of these tea chests had a set of three canisters, the two outer ones for the different types of tea and the larger centre one for sugar. It is commonly assumed that the centre canister was for blending the teas however documented evidence of the time clearly shows that it was for sugar (which at the time was as expensive as tea) and there is no evidence that tea was blended at the table. By the end of the 18th century tea chests (usually containing three canisters) were refered to as Tea Caddies. The word Caddy is thought to come from the Malay word “Kati”, denoting a measure of tea weighing about one pound, usually the capacity of a canister. During the 19th century lockable wooden tea caddies were produced with zinc lined compartments for storing tea together with a central glass bowl for sugar.
George III Cuban Mahogany Chippendale Tea Caddy c1770
Regency Rosewood Sarcophagus Tea Caddy with central glass bowl c1815