Tables intended specifically for the serving and taking of tea were first produced in the second half of the 17th century. Made from carved and lacquered wood with gilt decoration, they were imported from China by the British East India Company and sold in Britain at a considerable expense. To rival the export market and cater to the habit of tea drinking in the home, British cabinet makers began producing tea tables in exotic woods and in European styles. By the early 18th century, tea tables were a common feature in every affluent British home. Occupying a prime position in the parlour, it enabled the ladies of the house to lay out their fashionable tea wares and elegantly serve their guests.
This tea table is made from mahogany, a reddish-brown hardwood exported from Central and South America, which became the preferred timber for fine furniture-making in the early 18th century. The density of the timber and the variations of its colour made this an ideal material for crisp cuts and carving. This example features scalloped edges, cabriole legs and a folding top, indicating that it would have been positioned against the wall when not in use and brought out into the centre of the room on the occasion of tea-taking. The tabletop shows the mottled grain pattern found in occasional logs and colloquially known as ‘plum pudding’ mahogany.