Tea Versus Cider

For some time I was confused by John Wesley and William Cobbett condemning the consumption of tea. We see it as a healthy option today, and many people then condemned alcohol and praised teetotalism.

It was never just about the tea.

Until the early 19th century most people lived on the land. But things had changed in preceding decades as farmers had large houses where they lived and shared meals with their servants. Their wages were low but included food and accommodation.

During the harvest all hands were in the fields working from dawn to dusk. Images of lunch breaks often show the men collapsed with exhaustion. They were like modern marathon runners struggling to keep up their calorie intake. Some of their calories came from local beer or cider. Cobbett praised local cider as being healthy and nutritious.

But the agricultural revolution preceded the better known industrial one. Workers increasingly lived in rented cottages and had to feed themselves but their wages failed to allow for this. With the rise in international trade, tea became popular.

This is where Wesley and Cobbett come in. Unlike cider and beer, tea has no calories so did not top up the diets of the workers. It had to be paid for so there was less cash for necessities. It was also claimed to be addictive.

Tea also includes tannins which toughens leather and has a similar effect inside us. Tea was often drunk strong so had high levels of tannin which impaired digestion, further restricting the calorie uptake of the poor.

To counter the bitterness and to provide energy people added sugar which adds another level to the story as abolitionists were trying to wean the public off the slave produced product. Sugar rotted teeth, making normal food hard to chew so people consumed even more sugar. I have read of a single worker consuming a massive 3 pound per week as his teeth were so rotten.