In 1600 the English began to love tea with a passion that would forever burn bright. The beginning of this love was all-female: while men talked business in local coffee houses, women of the upper classes were taking tea with friends in the privacy of their homes. In short, the exotic drink was only for rich women. Female workers of the lower-middle classes could not afford it because it was just too expensive.
Taxes do not quench the thirst
So what was the reason for the high prices? Quite simply, heavy taxation. The first taxes on tea leaves was introduced in 1689 and was so high that it almost toppled sales. But the British could not give up their beloved beverage and brought about a new era of "tea smuggling" with organized crime gangs running the black market. The phenomenon, first circumscribed, became more and more worrying and by the end of the 18th century had been transformed, becoming a common practice, managed by structured criminal organizations: in fact, in England 5 million pounds of tea were imported legally, while 7 million were contraband.
Heavy taxation also brought sophistication to tea. Leaves and parts of other plants were dried and added to the mixture, changing however the color of the liquid. The solution? To make the drink as similar as possible to real Tea other "ingredients" were added, from sheep dung to poisonous calcium carbonate.
In 1784, the government realized that such heavy taxes were creating big problems, so the Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger significantly decreased the tax from 119% to 12.5%. It turned out to be a wise decision: tea suddenly became affordable and smuggling practically ended that very night. Tax on tea in England was abolished completely in 1964.