How did the British Government manage the trade imbalance with China in the 18th Century for vast tea import?

English tea culture.

Drinking tea is part of every culture world over. First introduced in China, in the later years  drinking tea had become not only part of every culture  across the globe but also an obsession for the labor classes, particularly, in India and other countries. For the Indian college students sipping tea frequently the previous night before the monotonous annual exam season is a common thing. For them  engaged in group studies, tea break gives them the needed  respite  from anxiety.

Enjoying hot brew - tea.

Credit goes to the early Dutch explorers who  first introduced the new beverage to Europe through their  Dutch East India company. Tea was quite fashionable among the people of the elite society and both beaus and  mademoiselles.  In Britain   'a cup of tea will make everyone feel better and reenergize him or her.! Believe it or not it is not surprising that the people there down whopping 165 million cups of tea almost every day between works and domestic chores . What has made them become one of the biggest tea-drinking nations per capita? Again it is historically connected the first corporate company East India Company.  It goes as far back as 1660 when EIC, taking a cue from the Dutch Company, at one stage, dominated the import of tea from China. Unlike other adjacent  countries where coffee was a favorite brew among the rich the English became addicted to tea  It tea-drinking culture  goes as far back as 1660 when EIC, taking a cue from the Dutch, started importing lots of tea from China.

At the high rated social clubs drinking tea gave the the rich an impetus to discuss the latest gossips  doing overtime among the very rich and famous, something to grind, chew and spit.  In the 18th century  the popularity of tea reached its peak among the aristocrats, but the for the poor and people in the stratified society - commoners, it was more than a luxury.  

Thanks to royals like Anna Russel, Dutchers of Bedford who introduced a sort of social convention and began enjoying  a pot of tea and a light snack in the late afternoon to add fun to it. Before long, the afternoon tea  convention became quite a social event. Queen Victoria, a friend of the Duchess', formalized the afternoon tea with her Buckingham Palace tea receptions, break the mundane life. 
As in any competitive trade scenario, the increasing demand for 
tea caused price hike, tea smuggling and fake tea blended with some dyed leaves. The latter ended in the hands of  working classes.   Only in the late  18th century, tea became a popular drink in Britain  across a large section and  by 1790s  the British had  insatiable thirst for Chinese tea.  It meant the British government had to drain gold or silver to import large quantity of tea (tea chests) from China, the main s producer of tea then.   

According to Thomas Manuel in his book Opium Inc (2021) ''at its peak, at the beginning of the 19th century, the duty on tea accounted for 10 per cent of Britain’s total revenue”, which was an unusual  situation. But, it was a big revenue to meet all the civil expenses, etc. What about international trade imbalance?  The ever increasing appetite for tea in Britain  created a tough situation with respect to  its balance of payment which was in favor of China who did not allow any imports from England as none of the British products impressed them. and they  preferred payment either in silver or gold. It caused a big drain on the British treasury. There was tremendous demand in Europe for Chinese tea, silks, and porcelain pottery, but there was correspondingly little demand in China for Europe’s manufactured goods and other trade items. This further widened the trade imbalance between t Britain and China. The British  Trade dedication to China to sell British products, having been failed, the Crown administration was pushed toa strange  but sensitive situation to make up the drain on gold and silver.

Having no other recourse the British was keen to push a product  irresistible to the population that could generate good income for a long time.   Their first choice turned to export of illegal opium through various agents cultivated in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in the Indian subcontinent.  Over a short period their silver gold reserve in the coffers started growing up ward. Soon they opened a few opium factories and started producing smoking opium which was quite receptive in China. In a few years the dumping of illegal opium from India made a large section of the Chinese drug-dependent and for the Crown their treasury was tuned into  the Allaudin cave of gold and Silver.   

At the same time they also began  to explore the possibility of developing tea plantation in the mountainous areas  with suitable climatic conditions.  Tea was introduced in India in 1840s as a challenge to Chinese monopoly and to cut down there hegemony in the international tea market. Cultivation of tea began in the NE state of Assam, west Bengal later in Nilgiris and Kodagu in south India. The death of Tipu Sultan of Mysore at Srirangapatna in 1799 was blessing in  disguise for  the British. 

District Collector John Sullivan  in the 1820s under the EIC was personally responsible for the promotion and growth  of horticulture and introduction of western vegetable plants on the hills of Nilgiris.  He indirectly opened the doors for tourism in this part and and the hidden potential of tea and coffee plantations on the hills under suitable climatic conditions. Lots of British companies moved uphill to start tea/coffee plantation on the Nilgiris hills (now in Tamil Nadu).  The Darjeeling town now in West Bengal  was developed by the British with a sanatorium and a military depot and later many tea estates came up on the foot of the lower Himalayas. 

During the WWII Tea was  used as a morale booster for the fatigued soldiers. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, famous racist  said, "the tea is more important than bullets". In the later years in the early 20th century tea rooms became a common place for the people to chat

In India, popularity of tea  began in the 1950s and now India  is one of the largest producers and consumers of tea. Here tea from Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiris is widely used. Particularly, the Darjeeling tea is in great demand on the international market.