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Thomas Jefferson's financial records and correspondence show consistent purchases of tea and provide valuable information about the kinds and amounts of tea he and his family drank. The few references from the 1770s and 1780s show purchases of different varieties of tea, while in 1790-91 in Philadelphia Jefferson seems to have preferred Imperial. Hyson, especially "young hyson," is also mentioned as a favorite. No references to a specific type of tea exist in Jefferson's memorandum books after 1794.

Primary Source References

1777 December 13. (Williamsburg) "Pd. at Dr. Pasteur's for 2 lb bohea tea £4-10."1

1777 December 25. (Williamsburg) "Pd. Miss Hunter for 2 lb Congo tea £6."2

1780 June 9. (Richmond) "Pd. for 1 lb Chu-chong tea £70. / Pd. for 1 lb Hyson do. £100."3

1784 November 24. (Paris) "Pd. Mrs. Barclay for China, tea & brandy 1054f."4

1788 April 29. (Paris) "tea. 4. lb @ 10 lt. pr. lb - 40 lt 4 s."5

1791 January 18. (Philadelphia) "Campbell 1. lb Imperial tea 2.D."6

1791 March 8. (Philadelphia) "Tea out. The pound has lasted exactly 7. weeks, used 6 times a week. This is 8/21 or .4 of an oz. a time, for a single person. A pound of tea making 126. cups costs 2.D."7

1791 April 16. (Philadelphia) "Tea out. Pd. for 1. lb Imperial 2 D."8

1794 October 9. (Jefferson to John Barnes, a Philadelphia tea merchant and grocer) "Having occasion for about 20. lb. of good tea annually, I think it best to rely for the choice of it on the good faith of some dealer in that article, both as to quality and price, and on no one do I rely more willingly than on yourself. I usually send to Philadelphia for my groceries once a quarter, and will on those occasions ask of you a quarter’s supply of tea. At present I will beg the favor of you to pack for me in a cannister 5. lb. of good tea. Young hyson we prefer both for flavor and strength, but if you have none good, let it be hyson of the antient kind."9

Annual expenditures:
1815.16: 15. [lbs. tea purchased] 59. [dollars]
1816.17: 22. [ditto] 85. [ditto]
1817.18: 14. [ditto] 39. [ditto]
1818.19: 21. [ditto] 52.50. [ditto]10

- Anna Berkes, 8/21/08

Further Sources


  • 1. MB, 1:455.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. MB, 1:497. "Chu-chong" refers to Souchong tea.
  • 4. Identified as ten lbs. of Hyson and two lbs. each of Pekoe and Souchong, costing 81 livres. MB, 1:569 n17.
  • 5. MB, 1:695.
  • 6. John Campbell was a tea merchant at 1 South Front Street; Imperial was "green Chinese tea made from older leaves." MB, 2:809, 2:809 nn10-11.
  • 7. MB, 2:812.
  • 8. MB, 2:816.
  • 9. PTJ, 28:179. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 10. MB, 2:1418-19.


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