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A History of Tea Time
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!

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.

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.


Digital Art
Photoshop CS5

Public Domain Images:
Wikimedia.org (Commons):

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