During the 18th century, as the empire expanded and the economy boomed, Britons devoured tobacco, spices, coffee, sugar and tea on a grand scale. Samuel Johnson declared himself a “hardened and shameless tea drinker”, and he was not alone. Around 1700 the East India Company imported £14,000 worth of tea from China; by mid-century that sum was £1 million and rising. “Taking tea” required a paraphernalia of pots, cups and saucers, the production of which China had long excelled at, producing translucent “porcelain” for export.
British potters had advanced little beyond rough and ready earthenware, but Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95) would change all that through ceaseless innovation, and surpass the Chinese in quality. Tristram Hunt, in this brisk and highly readable biography, compares Wedgwood to Steve