By the time the British took over in Colonial America, tea-drinking had become an ingrained social custom, especially for ladies, according to New York City: A Food Biography. There was one problem though: finding fresh, clean water for brewing the tea.
The Answer… Tea Water Wells!
These 18th century tea drinkers wanted flavorsome tea in their teapots, but the water readily available from wells dug in lower Manhattan was distasteful, foul and very “hard to swallow” if you will. But, sometime during the first half of the 1700’s, newly discovered springs of fresh water began to attract popular attention. This water was so popular for the making of tea that they were known as the Tea Water Pumps. The first mention of the Tea Water Spring appeared in the diary of Professor Kalm, a learned and observant man who visited the City in 1748. He wrote… “There is no good water to be met with in the town itself; but at a little distance there is a large spring of good water, which the inhabitants take for their tea and for the use of the kitchen.”
Residents got their drinking water from “wooden pumps set commonly at street corners, at intervals of about four blocks,” wrote Charles Haswell in his 1896 book, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian of the City of New York. The tea water from these sources became so popular that it was barreled and delivered around town in carts. The distributors of this water were called “tea water men.” They would work the streets and cry out “Tea water! Tea water! Come out and get your tea water!” These door-to-door sales carts became so numerous that they became an impediment to traffic until, on June 16, 1757, the Common Council passed “A Law for the Regulating of Tea Water Men in the City of New York.”
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