Tea Sold “by the Candle"

Tea Sold “by the Candle"

Jun 08 , 2022

The Romans and Chinese were making candles more than two millennia ago – candles have come a long way from being just sources of light made from animal fat or beeswax, to the scented and decorative items that bring comfort and ambience to a room today.

Would you guess that there is a surprising connection to share between candles, tea and The East India Company?

The very first tea auction was held in 1679, at the headquarters of The East India Company on Leadenhall Street, London. At the time, the Company held the monopoly of tea and other imported goods from China and India and when their ships returned heavily laded to London, there was an an auction every quarter.

Tea was sold 'by the candle'.

The auction was a riotous, noisy affair. One tea dealer said “a Tea sale appears to be a mere arena in which the comparative strength of the lungs of a portion of His Majesty´s subjects are to be tried”.

To bring some order to the chaos, a candle was lit at the beginning of the sale of each tea lot, and when one inch of the candle had disappeared the auctioneer dropped the hammer and the sale was complete.

Incredibly, this London Tea Auction as it became in the 18th century, lasted 300 years until the last sale in 1998.

Candles are now often scented with tea. But once upon a time, they were used to sell tea.