MCNY Blog: New York Stories

Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org

Tea, a New York drink

Museum of the City of New York. 50.220.2.

Sarony. [Maude Adams as Lady Babbie in The Little Minister.] 1897. Museum of the City of New York. 50.220.2.

Okay, coffee is more popular, be it a regular deli cup (hot, light, and sweet) or a compostable cup of slow-drip, cold-brewed, artisanal bean. With your alluring caffeinated goodness and perfect partnership with donuts, coffee, we will never leave you. But this week’s blog celebrates the less considered, but no less delicious form of caffeine and comfort, tea. Iced or hot, black or herbal, with lemon, honey, milk, sugar, or just plain, tea first came to America through the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. By the time the colony was renamed New York in 1664, the residents were confirmed tea drinkers.

Though America’s most famous tea party did not take place here, New York is arguably the birthplace of tea in America. Not only did tea first come in through New York, but it was here that Thomas Sullivan, a tea retailer, invented the tea bag. (The story goes that to save money, Sullivan sent out tea samples in small silk bags. When the clients seeped the tea in its packaging, the tea bag was invented.) From that first Dutch colony into the 20th century, New York City was a center of tea manufacture, sales, and consumption.

Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.818.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Franklin Street and Greenwich Street. B. Fischer and Co. Factory, tea mixing machine. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.818.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Franklin Street and Greenwich Street. B. Fischer and Co. Factory, tea mixing machine. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.821.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Franklin Street and Greenwich Street. B. Fischer and Co. Factory, Tea Packing Dept. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.821.

Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.570

Byron Company (New York, N. Y.). Automobile Trucks, ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.570.

In addition to processing, packing, and distributing tea around the country, New York was a hub of tea sales. One major purveyor , the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, started off selling tea and coffee locally in New York, but by 1870, had established a national mail order business for its products. In the 20th century, the company became known for its chain of grocery stores, A&P, and it all began with tea.

 

Museum of the City of New York. 97.5.31.

Museum of the City of New York. 97.5.31.

Below, men gather outside tea merchant in Manhattan’s financial district.

Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2002.

New York Photographing Company. Rufus Story, dealer in coffee spices & tea. ca. 1881. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2002.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.807.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Franklin Street and Greenwich Street. B. Fischer and Co. Factory, line of samples. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.807.

Tea was made here and it was sold here, but more importantly, it was drunk here. From private residences to tea rooms, restaurants, and hotels, tea could be an ordinary daily affair.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.7120.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) New York Association for the Blind, Interior, Girls at Tea. 1931. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.7120.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Hotel McAlpin, Tea, Coffee, Toast and Chocolate Department, 23rd Floor. ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4302.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Hotel McAlpin, Tea, Coffee, Toast and Chocolate Department, 23rd Floor. ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4302.

Or, dressed up with elaborate service.

Marcus & Co. Tea Strainer. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 66.56.6.

Marcus & Co. Tea Strainer. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 66.56.6.

 

Though the tearooms of yesteryear are no longer commonly found, tea sales are on the rise again. And, if you prefer something stronger in your tea, you could take a visit to the Russian Tea Room.

Museum of the City of New York. 97.146.314A-B

Menu for The Russian Tea Room. 1960-1980. Museum of the City of New York. 97.146.314A-B

Delicious.

Museum of the City of New York. 56.300.1427.

Currier & Ives. Splendid Tea! 1881. Museum of the City of New York. 56.300.1427.

For more images on tea, visit us online at the Museum’s Collections Portal.

About Morgen Stevens-Garmon

4 comments on “Tea, a New York drink

  1. Karen
    July 12, 2016

    Enjoyed this article; good job!!

  2. pennzer.com
    July 13, 2016

    Very good and interesting article. It’s nice to know there is a place for tea in New York and that tea drinking is on the rise again.

  3. artdoesmatter
    July 16, 2016

    What a delightful (and insightful!) article. While my love of tea began when living in NYC, I never knew that someone who shares my family surname (Sullivan) invented the tea bag. Happy to have discovered this lovely blog today and will enjoy following more MCNY posts!

  4. Victor
    October 5, 2016

    This was a very informative article. You gave me a new appreciation for tea.

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