Indonesia has been producing tea for western Europe for some two hundred years.
It was the Dutch, through the Netherlands East India Company, who began the tea trade in these south east Asian islands and until World War II, teas from Indonesia, India and Ceylon dominated the market for black tea.
After the war the Indonesian estates were in a sorry state. Wrecked factories and tea bushes that had reverted to trees were just two of the problems that faced planters. However, by 1984 exports were again beginning to come from this area.
East India Company, Dutch, 1602–1798, chartered by the States-General of the Netherlands to expand trade and assure close relations between the government and its colonial enterprises in Asia. The company was granted a monopoly on Dutch trade East of the Cape of Good Hope and West of the Strait of Magellan.
From its headquarters at Batavia (founded 1619) the company subdued local rulers, drove the British and Portuguese from Indonesia, Malaya, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and arrogated to itself the fabulous trade of the Spice Islands. A colony, established (1652) in South Africa at the Cape of Good Hope, remained Dutch until conquered by Great Britain in 1814. The company was dissolved when it became scandalously corrupt and nearly insolvent in the late 18th century, and its possessions became part of the Dutch colonial empire in East Asia.
Tea became very fashionable in the Dutch capital, The Hague. This was due in part to the high cost of the tea (over $100 per pound), which immediately made it the domain of the wealthy.
The Netherlands epitomized the height of fashion in tea serving by 1666 and every well to do home had it’s own exclusive tearoom. The Dutch were the first to add milk to both tea and coffee.
Slowly, as the amount of tea imported increased, the price fell as the volume of sale expanded. Initially available to the public in apothecaries along with such rare and new spices as ginger and sugar, by 1675 it was available in common food shops throughout Holland.
As the consumption of tea increased dramatically in Dutch society, doctors and university authorities argued back and forth as to the negative and/or positive benefits of tea. Known as “tea heretics”, the public largely ignored the scholarly debate and continued to enjoy their new beverage though the controversy lasted from 1635 to roughly 1657. Throughout this period France and Holland led Europe in the use of tea.
As the craze for things oriental swept Europe, tea became part of the way of life. The social critic Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, the Marquise de Seven makes the first mention in 1680 of adding milk to tea. During the same period, Dutch inns provided the first restaurant service of tea. Tavern owners would furnish guests with a portable tea set complete with a heating unit. The independent Dutchman would then prepare tea for himself and his friends outside in the tavern’s garden.