Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Empire of Tea

I've been reading this book, "the remarkable history of the plant that took over the world," by Alan and Iris Macfarlane. It's a wealth of history, economics, sociology, and much more. Read the book for all of those. I want to call attention to their reference to a comment written in 1879:

the style of the conversation depends very much on the kind of tea that the housewife pours for the guests. If it be genuine Young Hyson...the talk will be fresh and spirited and sunshiny. If it be...Gunpowder, the conversation will be explosive and somebody's reputation will be killed before you get through. If it be green tea...you may expect there will be a poisonous effect in the conversation and the moral health damaged.

Wow! What assumptions! Now, I do notice a bit of typing in the people who buy bulk teas from me, particularly those who choose Lapsang Souchong, the very aromatic smoked tea. They're a strong, individualistic crew (if I had to make that determination). Otherwise, I could say that people who go to the trouble of brewing tea from leaf are morally superior...but how difficult can making a good pot of tea be, really?

What does fascinate me here is how scathing is the judgement of green tea. Now that we know so much about the antioxidant, anticancer, etc. properties of green tea, we choose to drink it (or take it in supplement form) for its benefits. Now that we know about the amino acid theanine, which elevates mood and focuses the mind, we have greater appreciation for this delicate cup of tea -- and the lower caffeine levels we get.

So what's the basis of his judgment? He is speaking from Victorian England, "things Japanese" are in vogue, and tea has changed English life. Still I wonder if this may be a racist judgement: the English, after all, are drinking black tea!

As a footnote: A woman in her 90's used to buy green tea from me by the pound. She told me that when she grew up here in Keene NH, green tea was what was widely used, and black tea took over later, maybe after World War II. Was it the "secret" of her long life?




6 comments:

Carol Kicinski said...

Thanks for stopping by and for your informative blog. I look forward to reading more!

SteamyKitchen said...

I always serve Gunpowder tea.

Is that why I don't have any more friends?!
;-)

Green Fertility Marie said...

Hi Susan!

Funny thing, for all its underlying racism, that the Japanese have a much higher lifespan than people in the West!

BTW writers seem to go for the "dark smoky" stuff, too. You should see how much coffee people drank at MacDowell!

Happy holidays!
marie

White On Rice Couple said...

So glad tea green tea has gained an understanding and popularity over the years. We've never had any English dinner guests yet, but if we do , we know what to serve. Go Green ! :)

Katy said...

Wow, thanks for the little note on the book your post was very interesting.

alexis said...

what a fabulous and interesting blog post. I wonder if my tea choices reflect my character? I really need to read this book! thanks for sharing!

also, thanks for the great comment about honey on my blog!