April, as usual, is bringing those only to be expected rain showers. The frozen ground beneath our feet has changed into a soggy mess, and although the garden calls out to us for a little TLC, it is much easier just to stay indoors with some excuse or other. A refreshing cup of tea usually goes along with that excuse, like a good habit that never dies. Why go out on a dull, damp weekend afternoon when there’s an opportunity to relax by the fire with a fine cuppa and a good book?
The Mad Hatter's Tea Party from 'Alice in Wonderland' by Lewis Carroll
The drinking of tea apparently goes back a long way. It is said, the first known book about the buying & preparation of tea was written in China in 59BC. Known by early Chinese physicians to make one ‘think’ better, tea was used as a currency in the form of a ‘tea brick’ in the eighth century. It wasn’t until the seventeenth century that tea first arrived in Europe when it was brought by the Dutch East India Company to Amsterdam.
In 1660 London’s Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary about “a chinese drink of which I had never drunk before.” Initially promoted as a medicinal beverage or tonic, by 1750 it was the national beverage. Merchant ships delivered fabric & other goods to China & India & brought back tea to fill their empty holds. The escalation in the poularity of tea drinking coincided with the rise in imports of sugar cane from the East Indies. While there came about a general addiction to ‘sweet tea’ in Britain, the trade off was that China was being paid for it with opium.
Initially highly taxed tea was imported into the American colonies, however when Benjamin Franklin suggested to the British Govenment that the tax on tea should be relaxed, the outcome was opposite to that expected. In order to strenghthen the colony’s independence & not wanting to be lured in to buying British goods, word was spread that tea was actually bad for you. As we all know, the end result was that famous catalyst of the American Revolution, the Boston Tea Party in 1773 when American colonists dumped 343 barrels of tea into the harbor.
Curiously, even until fairly recently, in the United States hot brewed tea continued to be less popular than coffee or iced tea. Since 1993, however, the American specialty tea market has quadrupled in size & there are many fabulous teas to be found & enjoyed. How to make a good cup of tea? Click here.
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