Everyone who knows anything about regency novels knows that the characters will often sit down and drink tea together. They probably drank several cups of tea per day as they made their way to pay calls on different houses, as well as after excursions to regain their strength.
Tea wasn’t the only hot drink that was served in Regency times, however. Coffee and chocolate were served during the same time period
Tea was officially introduced to Britain in 1662 by Catherine of Braganza, Queen of England (daughter of the Portuguese king at the time).
Although tea was drunk frequently in Regency times, it was actually considered an expensive commodity! It was so pricey, in fact, that tea leaves were kept in a special box that was kept locked, with only the mistress of the household having a key.
While there were two main types of tea leaves available – black and green – they came from different tea plants. Unique blends were made by combining different types of leaves, and some households were known for their unique proprietary blend.
Tea leaves were often used more than once, especially in the wealthy households. The first brewing was drunk by the family, and then the used leaves were given to the servants to brew and drink. Sometimes if the household was poorer, the family would re-use them several times before passing them on.
With each use, the strength of the flavors decreased. When everyone had had their tea, either the cook or the housekeeper (whose contract formally stated she could have the used tea leaves) would sell them to much poorer families.
Interestingly enough, drinking lots of tea helped improve the health of the drinkers because it meant their water was being boiled before they drank.
Unfortunately, imitation tea leaves began to be sold due to the high prices. Leaves from regular plants were used, then dyed with toxic and constipating substances. Fake black tea leaves were often mixed with animal dung or the contents of a chamber pot.
Europeans first learned about coffee consumption and practice through accounts of exotic travels to “oriental” empires of Asia.
Sir Francis Bacon was an important English virtuoso with regards to coffee experimentation. His work with coffee inspired further research into its medicinal properties. Experiments with coffee led to supposed “cures” for ailments such as “Head-Melancholy” (depression), gout, scurvy, smallpox and excessive drunkenness.
It was common in England to put the ground coffee into a coffee-pot, to add water and to boil them together.
Coffeehouses were established, and men would often meet there to discuss politics and debate philosophy and other scholarship interests. Anyone who had a penny could come inside to a coffeehouse, which meant quite a lot of mingling between the different social classes. A true coffeehouse was crowded, smelly, noisy, feisty, smoky, celebrated and condemned.
Coffee never became as popular as tea, partly because war with France and Spain made it hard to get supplies of coffee from the Levant, whilst trade routes from China (for tea) were reliable. The obvious solution was to drink tea rather than coffee.
The history of chocolate as a drink is quite interesting. In the United States, the terms chocolate and cocoa are used interchangeably, but there’s actually quite a significant difference.
Hot chocolate is made with ground chocolate beans, heated milk or water, and sometimes sugar. It’s more like a coffee or tea than the smooth, sweet, creamy drink we typically think of.
This is what would have been drunk during Regency times, and it was occasionally sweetened with sugar or milk, but contrary to popular belief, it was not thick, creamy, or luxurious and indulgent as many Regency romance novels would suggest.
In fact, in the Victorian and Regency eras, hot chocolate was considered beneficial for digestive health issues and was often prescribed as medicine rather than being a luxury drink.
Other Regency Hot Drinks
Here is a brief description of other drinks that were served in Regency times:
- Punch – The word punch is believed to have come into English through the old Hindustani word paanstch meaning ‘five’, implying a large beverage concocted from five key elements – sweet, sour, alcohol, hot water and spice.
- Flip – This drink was composed of hot beer, brandy and sugar. It was heated with a red-hot poker, called a logger-head, which caused the drink to froth and thereby gave the drink its name. Sailors seemed to particularly like it. Later, in the 1800s, eggs were added to it.
- Buttered toddy – The buttered toddy was a hot drink created from honey and lemon juice, along with a dash of nutmeg. That mixture was added to a glassful of rum and a quarter of butter and diluted with boiling water.
- Negus – Negus consisted of wine, hot water, lemon juice, sugar, and nutmeg and was a popular and fortifying drink consumed on cold evenings. Jane Austen even mentioned negus in her novel The Watsons, and its popularity remained into the Regency Era, where she and other balls attendees, like her sister Cassandra or her cousin Eliza de Feuillide, would have expected to drink it.
As you can see, there is much more to hot drinks during Regency times than just a cup of tea a few times per day! There is a wide variety of Regency era hot drinks, and they are made much differently than most of us would have thought!
Which one would you like to try?