Tea originated in China as a medicinal drink over 2,000 years ago and was introduced into Europe during the 16th century by Portuguese priests and merchants. Drinking tea became fashionable in England during the 17th century and in time led to the English starting large-scale production and commercialization of the plant in India.
Coffee cultivation and trade began on the Arabian Peninsula and by the 15th century coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia and by the 16th century it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent. Coffee houses were quickly becoming centres of social activity and communication in the major European cities and in England “penny universities” sprang up, so called because for the price of a penny one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating conversation.
At home, the English drank tea rather than coffee. 19th century inventories show that families owned twice as many teawares as coffee utensils. Women adopted the drink for their social gatherings and served tea after dinner. It was also an occasion to demonstrate wealth and good taste, and teawares were as responsive to changing fashion as dress and interior decoration.