From its storefront on Vesey Street, the Great American Tea Company (est. 1859) sold seven varieties of Chinese tea. This ad testified to the quality and authenticity of their wares. Americans of all classes cultivated a taste for tea under British colonial rule when imports of tea were monopolized by the British East India Company. After winning independence from Great Britain, Americans were finally able to send their own ship to China.
The Empress of China left New York Harbor in 1784, returning with over 800 chests of tea. Many such voyages followed, providing Americans direct access to the product they craved. The first Chinese to wander the streets of New York City came as sailors aboard these lucrative trading ships carrying Chinese tea and porcelain. In the 1850s, such ships brought Chinese laborers to the California Gold Rush who hoped to strike it rich on “Gold Mountain.”