Tea has a long and colorful history that dates back to more than 5,000 years ago when an innovative emperor named Shen Nong ruled China. An ordinance that required the boiling of drinking water for hygienic reasons, created tea by accident when an open window blew dried leaves into a boiling pot of water. The rest of the story about this soothing beverage is, as they say, history.
Tea came to America aboard the sailing ships that carried intrepid colonists from England and The Netherlands to the New World. Peter Stuyvesant brought the first samples to New York, which was then known as New Amsterdam. Many of the tea drinking customs of the Old World were passed down to the early settlers and by the mid 17th century, the practice of tea drinking was well established in the American colonies.
By the early 18th century, the tea trade flourished particularly in New York, Philadelphia and Boston. Special water pumps were installed in natural springs in these centers making water readily available for making tea. These gave rise to ‘tea gardens’ and ‘tea springs.’ Fancy porcelain tea products such as pots and spoons symbolized wealth and an elite social status.
In the 1760s, the British government began to impose a tax on tea, first through the Stamp Act of 1765, and later with the Townshend Act of 1767 . Outraged merchants, shippers, and colonists began to smuggle tea into the colonies to avoid the tax and many became very rich in the process.
Dissent led to a number of demonstrations culminating in the Boston Tea Party in December 1773 when, disguised as Mohawk Indians, members of the political group the Sons of Liberty, led by Samuel Adams, boarded three British East India Company ships the Eleanor, Dartmouth and Beaver and threw 342 chests of tea into Boston harbor. This act of defiance came to symbolize America’s displeasure with and subsequent rupture with England.
America’s first three millionaires, T.H. Perkins, Stephen Gerard, and John Jacob Astor, all made their initial fortunes in tea trafficking. Direct trade with China began in 1789, and newer, faster clipper ships far out-sailed the older, slower, and much heavier English tea wagons that had once dominated the trade.
All in all, tea is a noble beverage steeped (forgive the pun) in history and as such, worthy of respect. So, even if the amber liquid is not your particular cup of tea, the next time you serve some to your guests or sample a cup yourself, remember that your actions may well influence the opinions of political leaders, enhance the wealth of an empire, and find you solely responsible for the demise of a single teabag.
As far as the future of tea is concerned, we must all brace ourselves for the ultimate possibility of tea for two with or without sympathy.
Do you have a cup of tea during the day, or are you a steadfast coffee drinker?