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Poor consumers as global consumers: the diffusion of tea and coffee drinking in the eighteenth century



This paper challenges the prevailing view among economic historians that tea and coffee were luxury articles of consumption prior to the nineteenth century. It reviews an array of available evidence, including national trade statistics and probate inventory studies. In particular, it examines the surprisingly wide social and economic diffusion of tea and coffee drinking among Amsterdam citizens of lower to middling economic status during the period of that city's ascendency and subsequent decline at the centre of global trade networks. Using the distribution of tea and coffee wares of both local and exotic manufacture across households of the artisanal and labouring classes, it seeks to map both the economic reach of the East Indian trade into the poorer parts of the city, as well as to locate the cultural meanings associated with the consumption of these new goods. New data to address this issue have been derived from a substantial collection of after-death inventories drawn up on the estates of middling and poor Amsterdam citizens in the middle decades of the eighteenth century by the Regents of the Municipal Orphanage.