‘Tea may fairly claim to be the national beverage. A large majority of the population drink it with every meal.’ – Richard Twopeny, Town Life in Australia, 1883

For much of Australia’s history, tea and the teapot presided at family meals. Between meals, morning and afternoon tea helped keep hunger at bay. A cup of tea was both solace and stimulant, the cure for everything from headache to heartache, or simply a good excuse to sit and rest for a moment.

Australians of all classes were prodigious tea drinkers. From the 1840s until 1900 our consumption of tea was the highest in the world, averaging 4-5 kilograms per person per year. It was not until the 1940s that coffee began to make inroads on this national beverage. And tea is still popular: Australians apparently consumed over 10 kilograms per household in 2021.

One spoon or two?

In the 1800s most tea was drunk without milk but with sugar, and Australians also led the world in the consumption of sugar. Just under one kilogram of sugar was consumed per person per week in 1890 — a whopping 45.4 kilograms per year! After 1900 milk was more commonly added to tea, but sugar remained a constant.

Tea was an enduring presence in family gatherings throughout this period. From the most elaborate tea party to the impromptu ‘cuppa’, families celebrated, consoled, and kept in touch around the teapot.