The Legendary Origin of Tea
The story of how the drinking of tea originated is interesting and has merit. Accordingly, in 2737 B.C., Emperor Shen Nong, was visiting a distant region of his realm and he and his court stopped to rest along the roadside. The servants began to boil water, as required for hygienic purposes, for all to drink. By chance, dried leaves from nearby were said to have fallen into the boiling water, creating a brownish liquid. When the emperor tasted it and found it to have an interesting, refreshing flavor, they made more. According to the legend, this is the beginning of tea drinking!
The Chinese Influence
Tea consumption spread throughout the Chinese culture reaching every aspect of society. In 800 A.D. Lu Yu wrote the first definitive book on tea, called the Cha Ching. He codified the various methods of tea cultivation and preparation in ancient China. It was this form of tea service which had been written about, and that Zen Buddhist missionaries later introduced to imperial Japan.
The Japanese Influence
The Buddhist Priest Yeisei first brought tea seeds to Japan from China. He had seen the value of the tea ceremony for use in enhancing religious meditation. As a result, he is known as the Father of Tea in Japan. So, tea received almost instant imperial sponsorship and its use spread rapidly from the royal court and monasteries to all of Japanese society.
Soon, tea was elevated to an art form resulting in the creation of the Japanese Tea Ceremony (the Cha-no-yu) or the hot water for tea. Irish-Greek historian, Lafcadio Hearn wrote from personal observation: The Tea Ceremony requires years of personal training and practice to graduate in the art yet the whole of this art, as to detail, signifies no more than the making and serving of a cup of tea. The supremely important matter is that the act be performed in the most perfect, most polite, most graceful, most charming manner possible.
This pure form of expression prompted the development of tea houses, in which the hostesses of Japan, the Geishi, began to specialize in The Tea Ceremony. Soon nearly everyone became involved in the excitement of tea.
Tea makes its way to Europe
The first European to personally encounter tea and write about it was the Portuguese Jesuit Father Jasper de Cruz in 1560 A.D., in his capacity as a missionary. After the introduction of tea into Portugal, they shipped tea to Lisbon; and Dutch ships transported it to France, Holland and the Baltic countries. Because of the travel costs to ship, at that time, tea cost over $100 per pound! This made it the domain of the wealthy. But, by 1675 A. D., it was less expensive and available in the food shops throughout Holland and France. Tea drinking became part of the way of life. Dutch inns provided the first restaurant service of tea. Tavern owners furnished hot portable tea sets to their guests at their garden tables. Into the 1700’s France and Holland led Europe in the use of tea.
Tea Arrives in England
The first samples of tea reached England between 1652 and 1654, and it became popular enough to replace ale as England’s national drink. As in Holland, it was the nobility that gave tea its stamp of approval. Both King Charles ll and his wife, the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza were both tea drinkers. And, although tea prices were kept fairly high, tea mania swept through England just as it had the other countries.
As a matter of fact, prior to the introduction of tea into Britain, breakfast and dinner were the two meals that were commonly served. But it didn’t take long before Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, adopted the European tea service format and invited friends to join her in an afternoon meal. The menu centered around small cakes, sandwiches, assorted sweets and, of course, tea. This practice proved so popular that soon she was sending friends notes that invited them to her London home for Tea Time and a walk in the fields. Likewise, this idea was copied by other hostesses and serving tea became a common thread for almost all families in England. Tea was made in a heated silver pot and brought to the guests and was served in the finest porcelain from China. The food, which almost always included most desired crumpets, wafer thin crust less sandwiches and shrimp and fish pates, was also served on the fine china. The tradition became most pleasant!
At this time, two types of tea services emerged, which are called High and Low. Low Tea was served in the homes of wealthy aristocrats and consisted of simple gourmet tidbits rather than regular meals. At these teas, the emphasis was on the presentation and conversation. For the middle and lower classes, High Tea was considered the main meal of the day and featured meats, vegetables and, naturally, tea.
English Tea Gardens
Taken from the Dutch tavern garden teas, the English enhanced the idea of Tea Gardens. On private grounds, ladies and gentlemen took their tea outdoors and were entertained by orchestras, flowered walkways, bowling greens, concerts, games and other lavish elements. In public tea gardens, women were allowed to mix freely for the first time without social criticism; and British society and the middle classes also gathered freely, thus cutting across lines of class and birth.
Tea and America
It was not until 1690 A.D. that tea was available for sale in America. Tea Gardens were first opened in New York City and were centered around natural springs and later manmade springs. The most famous of these Tea Springs was at Roosevelt and Chatham Streets, which later became Park Row Street.
By 1720 A.D., tea was a special favourite of colonial women. Noteworthy, the tea trade was based in Boston, New York and Philadelphia, which became future centers of American rebellion because the imported British tea was heavily taxed. Soon, contraband tea was smuggled into the colonies from ports far away and herbal teas were used from the American Indian. Tea companies fumed as they saw their profits diminish and they pressured parliament to take action. In June, 1767, the tea tax was introduced and ignited the flames of anger among the colonists. England counted on the passion for tea among the women colonists to help subside the rage, but it backfired. The women refused to buy English tea until their rights and those of their merchant husbands were restored, and the unjust taxes levied were brought into perspective. As events deteriorated, the men of Boston, dressed as Indians gathered and threw hundreds of pounds of British tea into the Boston Harbor. Hence, the name Boston Tea Party! Later, America stabilized her government, strengthened her borders and tea interests.
Invention of Iced Tea and Tea Bags
History reveals that the discovery of “iced tea” was aptly attributed to an Englishman, and possible plantation owner, named Richard Blechynden. This young, ingenious tea merchant, presented various teas, some from Calcutta and Ceylon— the Far East tea trade, at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, MO in the U.S.A., and planned to give his selected samples of the hot brew to all of the visitors. But, when the scorching heat of the day caused disinterest in hot tea drinks, he dumped a load of ice into the batch and inventively, produced the world’s first iced tea! Glory be to him and the “tea tradition” of old England! This new love of tea in America and its numerous ways to delight the “palate,” prompted the production of tea plantations in all of the American South.
Four years later, Thomas Sullivan of New York produced the first bagged tea. As a tea merchant, he carefully wrapped each bag for consideration at restaurants. He formulated the idea to help keep the kitchens tidy and uncomplicated with brewing big batches of tea. His idea was wonderfully, a success.
Tea Rooms, Tea Courts and Tea Dances
Beginning in both America and England in the late l880’s, fine hotelsbegan to offer tea service in Tea Rooms and Tea Courts. Victorian ladies and their gentlemen would meet in the late afternoon for tea and conversation. Many of these tea services became so well known that certain hotels like The Ritz in Boston and The Plaza in New York were noted for them, among other special services.
By 1910, other excellent hotels began to host Tea Dances in the afternoon, as dancing in America and England became the craze. Here again this highlighted the social aspect, it was a place where young men and women could meet.
Afternoon Tea Today In America
Tea is more popular than ever in America. Tea Rooms are springing up everywhere. Fine hotels are once again promoting their new tea services; and with Americans choosing a healthier lifestyle, the use of tea, be it herbal, fine English or any of the others listed below is very much in style.
Popular Teas for Morning, Afternoon and Evening
English Breakfast Tea, a fine black tea, which often includes Keemun, is blended with milk, and creates a bouquet that is reminiscent of hot toast from the oven. Lemon may be offered if milk is not preferred, but the two are never served together. It would curdle the milk in the tea.
Irish Breakfast Tea is considered great among tea drinkers, and the stronger the better. It is usually used only in the morning because of its robust flavor (except for the Irish, who are known to drink it all day). It is served with lots of sugar and milk (never cream). Many say cream is too heavy for tea, and the milk should be room temperature, as cold milk cools down the tea too quickly.
Caravan Tea is an excellent tea created in imperial Russia. Its usually a blend of China and India Black Teas, and like the Irish, is served with sugar and milk. Russians are fond of very sweet tea, often adding jams or honey to theirs and lemons studded with cloves is properly served.
Earl Grey is best remembered for the tea named after him. It is a smoky tea with a hint of sweetness and is served plain. And, polls tell us that it is the second most popular tea in the world today with its blend of black teas and bergamot oils.
Darjeeling Tea is a full-bodied tea grown in India that has a light flavor that reminds one of Muscatel. It is most often used in the afternoon and taken plain, although lemon may be offered—never milk.
Oolong Tea, an elegant tea sometimes known as the champagne of teas. Originally grown in China, it was imported to England in 1869. Today the highest grade Oolongs are cultivated in Taiwan. It is a cross between green and black teas and is fermented to achieve its delicious fruity taste. Adding anything to Oolong Tea is unthinkable! It is perfect for afternoon use with light sandwiches and cakes.
Green Tea, which is the tea used in the Japanese Tea Service, is a strong herbal tea and is not commonly used for afternoon gatherings. However, its use as a healthy tea is growing in popularity.
Keemun Tea is the most famous of all Chinese teas. It is considered the Burgundy of Teas because of its mellow, wine-like quality. Sugar and milk may be used, but forgo the lemon, for its combined taste would be too tart.
Now, that you have a grand knowledge of The Tea Tradition and how it is still so popular, why not plan to invite guests to a Tea Time of your own? You will be so happy that you did!
Taken from : © 2000 Victorian Bazaar. All Rights Reserved.