Taking Tea with Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson often retired to his sunny tea room to write such documents as the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. (©Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, Photo by Philip Beaurline.)

Jefferson also obtained tea from suppliers in Richmond, Philadelphia, and Paris. These written accounts provide a glimpse into the kinds and amounts of tea he and his family drank—both black and green Chinese teas.

1777 December 13. (Williamsburg)
“Pd. at Dr. Pasteur’s for 2 lb Bohea tea £4-10.”

1780 June 9. (Richmond)
“Pd. for 1 lb Souchong tea £70 / Pd. for 1 lb Hyson £100.”

1784 November 24. (Paris)
“Pd. Mrs. Barclay for China, tea & brandy 1054f.

1791 March 8. (Philadelphia)
“Tea out. The pound has lasted exactly 7 weeks, used 6 times a week. This is .4 oz. a time for a single person. A pound of tea serving 126.”

1794 October 9. (Jefferson to John Barnes, a Philadelphia tea merchant and grocer)
“Having occasion for about 20. lb. of good tea annually, I think it best to rely for the choice of price, and on no one do I rely more willingly than on yourself. I usually send to Philadelphia for my groceries once a quarter, and will on those occasions ask of you a quarter’s supply of tea. At present I will beg the favor of you to pack for me in a canister 5. lb. of good tea. Young hyson we prefer both for flavor and strength, but if you have none good, let it be hyson of the ancient kind.”

Students of tea will find it interesting that all the teas Thomas Jefferson steeped were grown in China and transported to the West by the East India Company. And, like savvy tea drinkers today, the president’s taste for tea turned toward more expensive teas as his palate evolved.

Contributing Editor Bruce Richardson is co-author of A Social History of Tea. Find out more about this and his other books at elmwoodinn.com

From TeaTime, January/February 2016



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