Taking Tea

Taking tea is a pleasurable part of life and one to be looked forward to. Afternoon tea, high tea, low tea, morning tea the original meaning of ‘taking tea’ has become a little confused over time despite many articles being written about the meaning of each and the origins and etiquette of Tea in the past 200 years.

Legend tells us that Tea began in China in 2737 BC, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree while his servant was boiled drinking water for him.  A dead leaf from a wild tea bush fell into the water. The servant didn’t notice it and presented the water to the emperor who tasted it and found it very refreshing. The tree was a Camellia sinensis, and the resulting drink was what we now call Tea.

Tea is made from the leaves and buds of the camellia sinensis, a flowering evergreen shrub thought to be indigenous to China

Tea was Asia’s secret until the 17th century, when the Dutch and Portuguese made trading routes to Europe. A trading post was set up on the isle of Java in 1606 when the first transcontinental tea voyage took place between China and Europe. Holland soon became to love this new beverage.

As the centerpiece of a cherished ritual, it’s a talisman against the chill of winter, a respite from the ho-hum routine of the day

Sue Engler

Tea quickly became a luxury item once it started to appear in England and was exclusively enjoyed by the elite class. The court of Queen Catherine and Charles II: the Queen, born in Portugal, loved tea and wished to drink it often, so the king cultivated a favorable relationship with the East India Company, that he gave his full military support to in turn gaining access to Tea. The city of Mumbai known then as Bombay was given to Charles as part of Catherine’s dowry, and his decision to use its port as a trade hub was significant in the trade route of tea to Britain in the following years.

Tea was expensive and the first record of Tea dates back to 1644 found on a surviving shopping list by a man in Leeds, requesting a bottle from his local apothecary. Tea was first mentioned in a UK newspaper in 1658 in an advertisement for a new drink from China being served at one of England’s first coffee houses. Throughout the remainder of the 17th century, men from the upper and middle classes would sip tea at coffee houses while women would drink it at home. But steep taxes put a hold on the spread of Tea to the point it almost stopped sales altogether.

Tea is a magical calming elixir — like, as if coffee had a therapist.

Teri Guillettes

Organized crime began to rise, with gangs smuggling millions of pounds of tea to the masses, stuffing the hard bricks of compressed tea with filler to inflate their profits. Notable smugglers, John Hancock and Samuel Adams, in 1765, and the Sons of Liberty famously organized the Boston Tea Party, during which they through more than 300 chests full of tea overboard into Boston Harbor as a protest against taxation. The British Prime Minister cut the tax rate down to 12 percent in 1784, eliminating the illegal activity surrounding the coveted Tea drink that immediately made it more affordable.

“5 O’Clock” John Bagnold Burgess, 1852

Tea has always been considered to have an exotic charm mainly due to the medicinal properties of Tea. Tea appealed to the aristocracy and the classes of privilege, developing in time to be an integral part of elegant society as a refined beverage for middle class ladies.

The art of Tea gradually spread across Europe starting out being served in Chinese Porcelain cups that were bought back to the UK and Europe with the Tea. Then silver tea services started to be made in Europe and more luxurious tea cups were made for example Louis XIV had his tea prepared in a teapot made of gold.

In the 19th century the tradition of afternoon tea, started in the UK and Tearooms opened up all over Europe. These were places that women could visit quite freely, unlike cafés, which were considered unbefitting. Tea did spread rapidly through every level of society albeit not as lavish as the upper classes. The British tea lovers began to develop a taste for different teas at various times of the day especially the new tradition of afternoon tea. By 1840 the high point of the day was traditional afternoon tea. A convivial occasion to meet up with friends or family. Tea was accompanied by sweet and savoury snacks and refined elegant silverware, teapots and fine china on lace doilies.

Content Di Baker 2020 all rights reserved

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