Contemporary Charlestonians sometimes complain about the difficulty of finding a proper cup of tea, but that problem wasn’t a problem in the latter part of the 19th century.
Today, Samuel Wilson is probably best remembered for building the Queen Anne-style home at 11 College Way that’s now known as the Sottile House, in honor of a later owner. But the 1890 construction project was likely made possible by profits Wilson earned as proprietor of the Charleston Teapot, a leading purveyor of high-quality teas.
Charleston Teapot, located at 284 King St., opened in 1865. According to historian Jian Li, William Ah Sang joined the shop as its tea buyer in 1872. Charleston Teapot advertised him as “the only educated Chinaman in South Carolina, and the best judge of Tea South of the Potomac.”
Although teas and coffees were central to Charleston Teapot, which was home to the state’s first steam-powered coffee roasting machine, the mercantile blossomed into a complete grocery. By 1888, the Teapot during Lent stocked potted shrimp, anchovy paste, boned cream codfish, pickled mackerel and kippered herring, along with eggs, fruits, nuts and jams.
“Any housekeeper can keep up with the new and dainty delicacies always on hand here,” claimed a News and Courier ad listing the items. “Don’t let anyone hear you say you can’t find anything nice for breakfast.”
The store was among the first in Charleston to offer free delivery, with no packaging charge. In 1911, Charleston Teapot purchased its first truck.
“It is a recognized fact that the automobile is destined to replace the horse, and the Teapot, a believer in up-to-date methods, has concluded that the auto is faster and surer than the horse,” The News and Courier reported.
But the grocery struggled after Wilson’s retirement in 1909. Four years after Wilson’s former partners Henry Lucas and James Wallace took over the Teapot, Wallace left for a competing store. An involuntary bankruptcy was filed against the grocery in 1914.