February 8, 2007

From English estates to American kitchens:
Tea whistles way through history into hearts of millions

-- Published in Fort Polk Guardian (Feb. 2, 2007) --
By: MICHELLE LINDSEY, Guardian staff writer

From dyeing fabric to health benefits, from a flavorful treat to reading the future, tea leaves have become a part of life, though some uses for the leaves are less conventional than others.
This tiny treasure can be used to relieve tired eyes, give house plants a little extra boost or soothe sunburns. Tea is so versatile it can be served hot or cold. It is safe to say tea is no longer just for proper ladies or stately gentlemen.
Without tea there would not have been a Boston Tea Party in 1773, and Alice (in Wonderland) would have missed the adventures of the Mad Hatter and March Hare’s tea party.
Chinese legend claims that in 2737 B.C., a servant of the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was boiling water under a tree when some leaves blew into the liquid. Smelling the sweet aroma, Shen Nung, an herbalist, tasted the mixture that was accidentally created. The leaves were from a camellia sinensis tree and led to today’s version of tea.
Although the story is legend, it is supported by the fact that tea was a staple of China long before it was introduced in the west.
Tea became increasingly popular outside of China when its distribution increased through trade. It spread to Japan, Portugal, Holland and Britain. The turning point in tea’s history came with Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess, married to Charles II of England from 1662 to 1685.
The love for the beverage brought it to the forefront and it soon became fashionable to drink at court.
The trend caught on and soon middle and upper class men and women began drinking it in their homes, but it was still too expensive for the working class. The high price of tea was mainly from a tea tax placed on the import of tea leaves.
“The monopoly on imports held by the merchants of the East India Company meant that tea prices were kept artificially high to protect profits, and on top of this the British government imposed a high level of duty,” states the United Kingdom Tea Council web site, “This created a demand among the British population for cheaper tea, and when that demand could not be met by legal means, a great opportunity was presented to those people who were less than concerned about breaking the law.
“Britons wanted to drink tea but could not afford the high prices. Their (desire for tea) was matched by the enthusiasm of criminal gangs to smuggle it in.
“What began as a small time illegal trade, selling a few pounds of tea to personal contacts, developed by the late 18th century into an astonishing organized crime network, perhaps importing as much as 7 million pounds annually, compared to a legal import of 5 million pounds,” states
Tea smuggling hurt the East India Co., a British trade company with monopoly to ship tea, financially and they struck a bargain with British Parliament to help their trade.
“On May 10, 1773, the British Parliament authorized the East India Co., which faced bankruptcy due to corruption and mismanagement, to export a half a million pounds of tea to the American colonies for the purpose of selling it without imposing upon the company the usual duties and tariffs,” states the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum web site,
“With these privileges, the company could undersell American merchants and monopolize the colonial tea trade.
“On November 27, 1773, three ships from the East India Co., the Dartmouth, Eleanor and Beaver, loaded with tea, landed at Boston and were prevented from unloading their cargo,” says. “(Colonists) demanded that the tea be returned to where it came from or face retribution. The Sons of Liberty, led by Samuel Adams, began to meet to determine the fate of the three cargo ships in the Boston Harbor.
“On the cold evening of December 16, 1773, a large band of patriots –– the Sons of Liberty –– disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded each of the tea ships. Once on board, the patriots went to work striking the tea chests with axes and hatchets as thousands of spectators watched in silence. Only the sounds of ax blades splitting wood rang out from Boston Harbor. Once the crates were open, the patriots dumped the tea into the sea,” claims.
“By 1784, the British government realized that enough was enough, and heavy taxation was creating more problems than it was worth. The new prime minister, William Pitt the Younger, slashed the tax from 119 percent to 12.5 percent. Suddenly, legal tea was affordable, and smuggling stopped virtually overnight,” the United Kingdom Tea Council web site reports.
Cheaper imports led to wider use of tea, including the eventual availability to working class people.
It would take more than a cup of calming chamomile tea to soothe the turbulence of this beverage’s history and journey to America, but today it has become a refreshing addition to daily life.
Studies show that tea is not only a popular beverage, but can also have health benefits. According to the United Kingdom Tea Council, a number of research studies conducted over the past few years have shown a range of health benefits from drinking tea daily. Benefits include:
–– As well as contributing towards your daily fluid requirement, drinking tea can offer some protection against heart disease as part of a healthy diet. Recent research shows that tea is a good source of flavonoids –– a group of compounds that have powerful antioxidant properties. And, the flavonoids in tea are soluble in water, so the longer your tea brews, the more flavonoids you get.
–– Like fruit and vegetables, tea is a natural source of flavonoids that generate antioxidant activity – in fact, there is more than twice the “antioxidant power” in a cup of tea than there is in one apple.
–– The health benefits of the antioxidants in tea are:
–– Antibacterial
–– Anti-viral
–– Antiallergenic
–– Anti-inflammatory
A large body of research indicates that antioxidants can help prevent heart disease and strokes.
Tea has stood the test of time, outliving fads and fashion. From tiny dried leaves to the tables in kitchens across the world, this delicacy turned durable staple has proved its staying power.

1 Tea Party Guest:

lime said...

this is terrific. i think i'll go make myself a cup now