The connection goes back centuries. But perhaps there hasn’t been a better time to consider it than now, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art has seized the moment in the recently renovated British Galleries. A whole room is devoted to the drink from China that became the quintessential British symbol.
Tea shaped British government policy and trade — and, of course, it figured prominently in what happened in the American colonies.
Showcasing tea’s place in British history allowed the Met to address a subject “we hadn’t addressed before,” said Wolf Burchard, who was the lead curator for the new galleries. That was the expansion of the British Empire, and it seemed an especially timely topic as Britain pressed ahead with Brexit, its withdrawal from the European Union.
The Met tells the story of tea and politics with two semicircular cases filled with 100 teapots, all made in Britain.
They are midway through the new galleries, a suite devoted to British decorative arts, design and sculpture from 1500 to 1900. Past the tea display are three 18th-century interiors, one from a mansion that was the residence of two British prime ministers and, for two years in the 1890s, of William Waldorf Astor, the heir to an American fortune who became a British subject. Also in the new galleries is a 17th-century staircase with elaborate carvings of pine cones, oak leaves and acorns. It was rescued from a Tudor manor demolished in the 1920s.