In the eighteenth century Britain experienced considerable demographic growth along with the birth of an industrial economy which brought to extensive social change.The British population doubled after 1721, from 7.1 to 14.2 million people and most of the growth occurred after 1750 and particularly after the 1780s. This was due mainly to a fall in mortality, which was particularly marked during the first half of the century and affected all socioeconomic groups. However, this reduction does not appear to have occurred for economic reasons only, but also for the significant improvement in domestic hygiene, the introduction of smallpox inoculation or the rebuilding of housing in brick and tile. Between 1810 and 1820, average family size reached five or six children per family, the highest rate in any decade in modern British history and this continuous rise in the rates of growth made Britain the world’s first industrial nation.This is in short the explanation you may read in every history book, but what you may not know is that this dramatic increase of people, who started to crowd the new-born industrial districts may have had another cause: tea.
The population boom of the first half of the eighteenth century clearly coincides, in fact, with the mass adoption of tea as national beverage. The fashion of tea drinking had started to be associated with rising luxury consumerism and became a means for demonstrating status and sophistication. English pleasure gardens, like Vauxhall Gardens, became tea gardens and were popular especially among women who were excluded from the coffee houses. Moreover, tea-shops – such as that first started by Thomas Twining (1717) – began to proliferate and catered the sale of tea to women for brewing it at home. As the preparation of tea was very simple, tea consumption soon surpassed that of coffee. Imports grew from six tons at the beginning of the century to eleven thousand at the end. By the 1850s tea had become tea had become a staple even of working-class diet.
However, it was not only the ease of tea preparation or its delicate, tasty flavour that made this infusion so popular, but rather its natural components. The presence of caffeine, for example, produces addiction and it is also a stimulant. Tea drinking, in fact, was promoted during the Industrial Revolution by factory owners, as it facilitated alertness and concentration. Furthermore, brewed tea possesses several important antibacterial properties that, in times when drinking water could not be considered properly safe, help reduce waterborne diseases: the tannic acid released in the steeping process, for example, kills off those bacteria that haven’t already perished during the boiling of the water.
Tea addiction and the consequent habit of using boiled water caused a microbial carnage. Physicians observed a dramatic drop in dysentery and child mortality during that period, even because the antiseptic agents in tea pass on to infants through breast feed. With the decrease of waterborne disease agents, the healthy tea drinking population began to swell in number, becoming that immense labor pool that will make the fortune of the country.