Continued from Tuesdays With Norwood: The Reception in Europe – Part 1
In the light of more recent history, it seems strange that tea drinking encountered no official intolerance in Europe-no rabid prohibitionists, no self-perpetuating anti-drug agency. You can, however, trace the spread of tea from Holland by the proliferation of medical Viewers with Alarm. Even before regular imports began, the first of these had warned in a Latin treatise that tea ” .. .Hastens the death of those that drink it, especially if they have passed the age of forty years.” This same medical authority, Dr. Simon Paulli, also assured his readers that “girls’ breasts that are rubbed with the juice of hemlock do not grow thereafter, but remain properly small and do not change the size they are.” Prior to Bontekoe’s pronouncements, even a Dutch physician, prejudiced by a moldy batch it sounds like, could deride tea as “groats and dishwater, a tasteless and disgusting beverage!” Soon after tea reached Germany we find a German medico gravely blaming tea for the “dried-up” appearance of the Chinese and exclaiming, “Down with tea! Send it back!”
The mid-1600s saw tea set off the kind of raging debate the French are famous for, a prominent Parisian doctor becoming the first to denounce it as “the impertinent novelty of the century.” A colleague of his was soon complaining that “the Dutch bring tea from China to Paris and sell it at thirty francs a pound, though they have paid but eight or ten sous in that country, and it is old and spoiled into the bargain. People must regard it as a precious medicament “You can just see how he must have shook his head. Nonetheless, before the century is finished, poems to tea appear in French. In one of her letters, Madame de Sevigne finds it worthy of note that a friend of hers takes her tea with milk-imagine!-and the aged Racine, who died in 1699, begins every day drinking tea with his breakfast. There is a painting in the Louvre by a certain Olivier depicting perhaps the most famous French tea. It is entitled Tea a fanglaise in the Grand Salon of the Temple with the Court of the Prince de Conti Listening to the Young Mozart, and it is dated nigh a century after the honest de Sevigne’s gossip. It is precisely this depiction of how the French nobility gave an “English-style” tea party that assures us the French had given up on tea for themselves. Once the “novelty of the century” had worn off, almost all Frenchmen returned to the beverages traditionally associated with their national life-wines, mostly cheap and occasionally divine, and dark-roasted coffee. The Germans likewise, after the first flurry of excitement, came to ignore the new drink, preferring their old and true favorite, beer. A European tea merchant of 1700 would have recognized only two growing markets outside Holland-England and Russia.