Marco Polo and Maffei both mentioned tea, but it was not until well into the seventeenth century that tea first became available in Europe. On 25 September 1660 Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary: I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I never had drank before. It is probable that early imports came via Amsterdam or through sailors on eastern boats. Portuguese Catherine of Braganza introduced English high-society to tea after her marriage to King Charles II.
From the 1780s onwards, as an alternative to purchasing tea with silver, Britain began trading opium from Pakistan and Afghanistan to China and purchasing the tea with the proceeds. This practice eventually led to the First Anglo-Chinese War (1839–42). The Roderic Bowen Library and Archives has one of the first contemporary accounts of the causes of that conflict, the Review of the management of our affairs in Chinaby Captain Elliot (London, 1840).
Not all of the works in the Roderic Bowen Library and Archives are so serious. Among the several satires on tea drinking there is a humorous Welsh Ballad, Llanc Uwch y Llynau, which describes a tea party in the Monmouthshire countryside that ends in intoxication and a wheelbarrow ride home.
The image reproduced above showing tea being off-loaded from a ship while a party in the foreground enjoy a cuppa is from A journal of eight days journey from Portsmouth to Kingston upon Thames (London,1757) written by the great philanthropist Jonas Hanway (1712-1786).