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By 1770, a sip of tea connected an English family to the spice ports of Java, the sugar plantations of the West Indies, and the tea gardens and potteries of China.
Drinking tea was a new craze in Europe in the 1600s. Merchants could make a fortune importing dried leaf tea and porcelain from Asia — if they could navigate through established trading networks, strict regulations and dangerous waters. Trading ships, exploring new routes, blown off course or searching for lost cargo, brought the first Europeans to the Australian continent.
The heavy taxes placed on trade goods such as tea, porcelain and sugar financed Britain's navy, boosting its power to defend colonies and trade routes, and funding voyages of exploration — including those of Captain James Cook.
Tea being planted, grown and cured in China. 1808. Courtesy: British Library Board.
At a Cantonese tea warehouse in about 1790, porters carry tea in baskets from a storeroom. Three Europeans examine the tea, and another talks to the overseer. Courtesy: British Library Board.