May 08, 2013

Tea time

The McFarland House was the home of John McFarland and his descendants for about 140 years. The house played an important role during the War of 1812, serving as a hospital, military headquarters, and a staging ground for the British attack on the American side of the Niagara in late 1813. Today this historic site highlights its involvement in the war but also highlights, as well as serves, tea.

Tea was very important during the early 1800s and it was very expensive. Many houses, including the McFarland House, had a tea caddy for storing tea. These boxes were kept under lock by the lady of the house in order to protect the tea from sneaky servants or dishonest children. Inside the caddy there were two sides, one side for fresh tea and the other for used tea. Since tea was expensive, it was not uncommon to use tea leaves up to three times.
McFarland House Parlour
Having tea allowed people to highlight their social standing. When family members or guests came over tea was often served. A family member or guest could know how important they were by the tea they were served. If you were served fresh tea then you were held in high regard, but if you were served used tea then you were not as important.  

One problem with tea in the 1800s was that many counterfeit tea leaves appeared. It was not uncommon for people to take used tea leaves and dye them with gunpowder, lead or coal in order to make them appear fresh. The black market was rife with counterfeit tea, which meant people had to be vigilant about where their tea leaves came from.

If you want to see how important tea was during the 1800s, you can visit McFarland House this Sunday for Mother’s Day. The McFarland House only serves good fresh tea; you won’t have to worry about used tea leaves. Click here for more information about this event.

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