I started drinking coffee recently; It’s something I feel strange about. It feels like fuel for us desk workers. In the beginning, both tea and coffee were not functioning as fuel, but rather as a leisure activity. How come?

After some digging, I found a charming story in «Sweetness and Power» written by Sidney Mintz in 1998, and «Black tea Lesson» from Gi-young Moon that was released in 2014.

Both coffee and tea arrived in the British Isles in the 1600’s. Tea was introduced by Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza.

When tea arrived in Great Britain it was extremely expensive since China had monopolised the tea industry and the transportation of it took forever -sometimes two years from China to England. However, even though the price of tea was high, it was highly popular as a social activity, among the high class. The amount of tea imported to England doubled every year. Simultaneously manners, tools and culture were developed around tea as “afternoon tea” or “low tea”.

After the industrial revolution, tea widely spread throughout the entire British society. Partly because tea prices went down, but also because it provided a certain amount of nutrition in low cost and short preparation time.

From 1860, England found a new way to supply the country with tea, which also resulted in a reduction of tea prices. They started to produce it themselves in India, which was a colony of Britain at that moment, instead of buying it from China. With the help of the development of the steam engine, the quality of tea became high enough to compare to the ones from China and the time for transport was now also reduced.

Back in the UK, the industrial revolution was in full blossom and the perception of time had started to change; the time began to measure as money for the factory workers. Another new thing that came with urbanisation and factories was that workers started to have commuting time. Workers had to rush in the morning and didn’t have time to have proper breakfast. In these circumstances, tea with milk and sugar was the perfect fast food. Soon the factories started to have “tea breaks” since they realised it was more efficient in the end.

Moreover, some were saying tea culture even brought up the discussion about the right of women, since tea gathered women together.

As tea, coffee is one of the most valuable legally traded commodity in the world, and also major fuel in modern times. They are not only drinks but maybe also indicators towards the development of labour and society at large.

*this research was a collaboration with the exhibition “Re: loading Technology” that happened in March-May 2018, and exhibited at TAC Eindhoven.