Emily Marcos, who works in character in Abigail’s Tea Room at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, introduces herself to visitors as Mrs. Mary Trow, “the wife of Bartholomew Trow, the shoemaker from over in Charlestown.” And as Mrs. Trow, she takes guests back in time to a very specific date.
“It is not just 1773,” she said. “It is very specifically December the 16th, 1773.”
On that date, more than 100 angry colonists boarded several ships anchored in Boston Harbor and dumped 340 chests of tea overboard in an act of protest we know today as the Boston Tea Party.
Although that tea was lost to the tides, historians and tea experts say we can still enjoy what it would have tasted like. They offer a taste of each of them here in the museum’s tea room.
In character, Marcos explained that there were five different teas thrown into the harbor that night.
“So, by far, the vast majority of what we're receiving here in Boston is called bohea,” she said. “It is so cheap and so common that it becomes a slang term for tea here in Boston.”
The tea room offers five varieties: singlo and young hyson green teas; the cheap and common bohea; the more refined congou; and souchong, which is so smoky it tastes like drinking Scotch by a campfire.
Making those original teas is not easy. Darren Hartford owns Oliver Pluff & Co., which makes five period-authentic teas that are sold at the museum’s gift shop and other spots around Boston. His company tries to get as close as possible to the original sources for his teas, Hartford said.
“Sometimes we have to move to find the correct leaf and the correct taste,” he explained. “But we do our best to go back to the same provinces where merchant records show they came from in China.”
A lot of the research that’s been done to understand exactly what teas were thrown overboard that night was done by Bruce Richardson, the museum’s so-called “tea master,” and author of the books “The New Tea Companion" and "A Social History of Tea.” Richardson also owns Elmwood Inn Fine Teas, which made the teas offered in the museum’s tea room.
“We've gone back into the records in London for the Maritime Museum there,” Richardson said. “We have now a copy of the invoice for the tea: how much tea was on board each ship, what the value of it was.”
The tea that was thrown into the harbor was unusually inexpensive for that time, Richardson said. After the unpopular Stamp Act in 1765, colonists boycotted British goods, and bought smuggled Dutch tea, putting the powerful East India Company in Britain in financial trouble with overflowing warehouses.
“So, Parliament pretty much said, ‘OK, we'll have a garage sale. We will allow tea to be shipped out of the warehouses in London over to the colonies. We'll arrange for the people who will receive it and then sell it in the colonies. But you won't have to pay any dividend back to Parliament,’” he explained. “So East India Company thought, ‘Oh, this is good.’”
Those receivers were basically middle men jacking up the price, and King George III wound up adding a tax after all.
“And that's really that's why people said, ‘No, we won't do it.’ And that was the beginning of the end.”
In the long term, what happened next changed the course of history.
But in the short term, the East India Company lost tea valued at nearlt 10,000 British pounds, the equivalent of more than $1 million in today’s currency.
Believe it or not, the company still exists — even if it's not the global power it used to be.
“We don't span continents and own any territories or armies or anything like that,” said Manan Bhansali, head of content for the East India Company.
These days, the company sells a range of products, including collectable coins, chocolates, specialty foods — and, of course, tea.
And 250 years later, the company doesn’t seem to hold a grudge against Boston.
“This was a peaceful demonstration against an imperial power, against an unfair situation,” Bhansali said. “And in a lot of ways, there was no one harmed, but a strong statement was made.”
In fact, the East India Company has donated 250 pounds of tea, which — along with tea donations that came in from around the world — will be dumped into Boston Harbor for an anniversary tea party on Saturday.