I had read of how people like the Wesleys condemned tea drinking and I thought it was to do with it being imported, or maybe the high cost for the poor, but John Wesley actually claimed it was more dangerous than heroin, which is quite an extraordinary claim, but there were sound reasons for this.
Agricultural workers were traditionally paid in part in food produced on the farm, which included plentiful supplies of cider in the south, which Cecil Torr who I have often quoted,claimed was full of natural goodness, safe as they knew how to make it, and full of calories. Whereas tea had no calories, but prevented people from absorbing food. Part of this is the tannin – used to tan leather – it does the same to your insides, denaturing the proteins and preventing the action of digestive enzymes, fine if you’re battling food poisoning or trying to lose weight.
The same applies to the large quantities of beer – usually small, ie low alcohol- that people also consumed. It was also full of goodness and calories. Because we tend to not think of how hard people worked before agricultural machinery was invented, and when the main form of transport was walking. They worked dawn till dusk, with hardly a break to bring in the harvest, and like marathon runners today, they had to get the maximum amount of calories into their systems in the best way, and that involved through drinks, and alcohol, in moderation, is also a good source of energy.
The main complaints thus made against tea was that it didn’t feed workers enough to work as hard as they needed to. Images of 18th century common folk are generally of round, ruddy cheeked, healthy. Those of the 19th century may have been working less, but they were eating a lot less and less well.