Episode 160: The Politics of Tea

How did early Americans go from hosting social tea parties to hosting protests like the Boston Tea Party?

Tea played a central role in the economic, cultural, and political lives of early Americans. As such, tea came to serve as a powerful symbol of both early American culture and of the American Revolution.

In this episode of the Doing History: To the Revolution series, Jane Merritt, Jennifer Anderson, and David Shields take us on an exploration of the politics of tea during the era of the American Revolution.

About the Series

The mission of episodes in the Doing History: To the Revolution series is to ask not just “what is the history of the American Revolution?” but “what are the histories of the American Revolution?”

The Doing History series explores early American history and how historians work. It’s produced by the Omohundro Institute.

Be sure to check out Doing History season 1, Doing History: How Historians Work.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.

Episode Summary

Jane Merritt, Jennifer Anderson, and David Shields take us on an exploration of the politics of tea during the era of the American Revolution so that we can better understand how tea came to play a sizable role in the American Revolution.

During our exploration, these scholars reveal how the early American tea trade and later obsession with tea developed; How tea influenced different aspects of the early American economy; And how tea parties and tea tables came to serve as important social gatherings for the discussion of revolutionary politics.

What You’ll Discover

  • The English East India Company and its tea trade
  • How the English East India Company created a market for tea
  • The price of tea
  • The role of tea in the British American “consumer revolution”
  • Tea smuggling
  • The Tea Act of 1773
  • How access to tea changed over the 18th century
  • The development of the mahogany trade
  • How the mahogany trade became associated with American tea consumption
  • Mahogany tree extraction
  • Why early Americans became obsessed with mahogany
  • Mahogany in early American paintings and portraits
  • Cabinetmakers and mahogany furniture
  • The popularity of mahogany and tea consumption
  • Why 18th-century British Americans loved tea
  • The taste and ritual of 18th-century tea
  • Types of tea and their popularity
  • Colonial British American tea tables and the ritual of drinking tea
  • Chinese culture in European and American culture
  • 18th-century British American tea parties
  • Politics at the tea table


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