When I first saw an eighteenth century tea caddy with two tea compartments and a small glass bowl in the center, it was explained the bowl was for mixing or blending green and black teas, hence it's name "mixing bowl."
Below is a photo of my tea caddy that I featured in a post on May 23, 2013. I referenced the bowl in the center as a mixing/blending bowl.
E-bay listings for tea caddies describe the center compartment as being for a mixing bowl. However, the glass bowl often doesn't survive the passage of time.
This past Friday, May 31st, one of America's leading tea authorities, Bruce Richardson, wrote a very interesting article about adding sugar to tea on his blog, The Tea Maestro.
In his article, a Regency tea caddy [1811-1820] is pictured, and he refers to the center bowl as a "sugar bowl." He concluded by saying "Read more about British and American tea history [in his soon-to-be released book this September, co-authored with Jane Pettigrew, well-known British tea authority and historian] in A Social History of Tea."
My interest in the center bowl of tea caddies was piqued. I own a copy of A Social History of Tea authored by Jane Pettigrew in 2001, published in Great Britian by National Trust Enterprises Ltd., London.
I pulled the book from my shelf to see what Jane had to say about the tea caddy bowl back in 2001. Sure enough... on page 87 she stated: "Cabinetmakers were fashioning wooden tea boxes to replace the porcelain jars that had first come from China during the previous century. The lockable chests contained two or three boxes for tea and sugar..."
That prompted more research about sugar. We take the readily available, fairly inexpensive sweetener for granted today, but in times past, it wasn't readily available nor was it inexpensive.
I knew tea chests were made with sturdy locks for the purpose of safe guarding tea, due to its high price, but I never knew the same was true for sugar. Use of imported cones of hard brown sugar was reserved for rulers and rich merchants. Sugar, like tea, was an expensive luxury up through the early part of the 19th century.
Mr. Richardson states it's unclear who first introduced the addition of sugar to tea [definitely not the Chinese], but it is documented that in the mid 17th century Queen consort, Catherine of Braganza, initiated the habit of adding a spoonful of sugar to hot tea at Hampton Court Palace. The habit spread to aristocratic households, and over time filtered down to the working class who catapulted sugar's consumption to record highs.
It was interesting to learn the glass bowl in the center compartment of tea caddies was used to hold expensive sugar, as well as perhaps mixing green and black teas.