Saturday, October 28, 2006
A Short History of Tea by Me
Rumors and tales abound concerning the origin of tea. The most commonly held belief is that the Emperor Shen Nung discovered tea in China back in 2737 B.C. He was outside in his garden one day while his servants were boiling water for him to safely drink, when some leaves blew into the pot of boiling water. The leaves added aroma and flavor. He drank it-enjoying its taste and declaring it to have medicinal properties. In fact, tea was often considered a medicine. For centuries it was available from apothecaries for medicinal use and not as just a beverage to be enjoyed.
Some of the brands of English tea that we are familiar with are named with names that show the medicinal roots like Typhoo and PG Tips. Typhoo was the Chinese word for Doctor and the PG of PG Tips stood for “Pre-gestive” to aid in digestion. In fact, tea is good for health, but more about that later.
Tea has often been imbibed with many different qualities as William Gladstone says:
“If you are cold, tea will warm you-
If you are heated, it will cool you-
If you are depressed,
It will cheer you-
If you are excited, it will calm you.”
Tea arrived in England from China in the 1600’s from Dutch Traders. Along the way it grew in popularity fueled by the monarchs including Queen Anne and Queen Victoria. In fact, during Queen Victoria’s reign the East India Company of London controlled the world’s supply of tea.
But it was Anna, Duchess of Bedford, who is credited with beginning the ceremony we know as Afternoon Tea. During her day lunch was served at noon, but dinner did not occur until 8 or 9 pm. Anna began to have a “sinking feeling” during the long afternoons. She asked her cook to make her a pot of tea and some small snacks to enjoy with it. She liked this afternoon tea break so much that she began to invite other ladies over to join her. They would meet in her boudoir. Now, we often think of the boudoir as a bedroom, but it used to be more of a quiet sitting room where women would make their plans and run their households from.
News about her tea parties grew and other women of the upper classes began having teas of their own. The tradition has continued to this day. Afternoon teas began to inspire dress styles as well.
Tea grew in popularity as more of the English were able to afford it. The coffeehouses were the men’s domain and women did not enter them. Eventually, a woman did open a tearoom and it became acceptable for women to meet there, even unchaperoned.
Tea made it to America in 1660 having been introduced by Dutch colonists. The American colonists loved their tea and consumed vast quantities of it. Over time, England taxed tea considerably for the Colonists. It was these constant taxations without representation that the colonists grew to resent, resulting ultimately in the famous Boston Tea Party. What a party that was! It is estimated that the angry colonists, dressed as Indians, dumped $238 million dollars worth of tea into the Boston Harbor on that December day. Colonists ultimately gave up their love of tea, choosing coffee instead to boycott the unfair taxes.
However, two notable tea inventions did occur in America. It was an American who began selling samples of tea in small silk bags. His costumers began to brew the tea while still in the fabric bags and thus, the tea bag was born. Also, at the St. Louis World’s Fair another tea salesman was having difficulty in selling hot tea because of the warm weather. He decided to serve the brewed tea over ice, and Americans often drink their tea iced to this day.