Drinking tea maintains a connection to the changing of the seasons. Patterns in tea drinking often match changes in the weather, indoor and outdoor activities, and the cyclical comforts of familiar traditions and celebrations. Which is a more poetic way of saying that the seasons of tea, like history, repeat themselves. During the summer, iced teas command our attention. But at the slightest hint of cool weather, we run to the loose-leaf tea cupboard to reacquaint ourselves with our tea collection. Is it time to restock? For tea merchants, the answer is a resounding “yes!” Many spend their summer months wrangling in the last of the late spring tea harvests to replenish their inventories, blending new tea creations and scratching their heads wondering how to plan their purchasing for the holiday season six months in advance.
While recent reviews about the World Tea Expo in June have been positive (and rightly so), there is always at least one moment during the show when something sparks the reaction that you’ve been here and done this before. Many times before, perhaps. In these moments, when the passing calendar and seasonal changes create a certain amount of angst for tea merchants, it can feel like the movie, “Groundhog Day” – didn’t we just go through all of this? Do we really have to come up with a pumpkin tea for Thanksgiving? How many more ways can we tweak a chocolate / mint tea blend for the holidays?
This is when we tea merchants, just like our customers, turn to a few stolen moments lingering over a cup of tea to brighten our prospects. Usually a cup of tea does the trick, but sometimes reinforcements must be called in – a pot, not just a cup. A dessert helps. And in the worst cases, Google Books for a little history. Given the very long history of tea, the copyright-free historic books and publications about tea available on digital repositories are a true treasure for anyone who likes exploring the history of tea and tea drinking. True, on the science and technical side, some of the information is dated and not very useful, but so much of the other information is both interesting and illuminating. All too frequently, by changing a name, a couple of words, a brand of tea, and a date, you could take some of the points about tea that have been made or marketed hundreds of years ago and insert them right into the discussions of and advertisements for tea that we are still having today.
For example, “Tea & Tea Drinking,” published in 1884, noted the following on the health benefits of tea and health claims:
“‘Some ascribe such sovereign virtues to this exotic,’ remarks one author, ‘…as if ’twas able to eradicate or prevent the spring of all diseases … others, on the contrary, are equally severe in their censures, and impute the most pernicious consequences to it, accounting it no better than a slow but efficacious poison, and a seminary of diseases.’ A learned Dutchman pronounced it the infallible cure for bad health, and declared that ‘If mankind could be induced to drink a sufficient quantity of it, the innumerable ills to which man is subject would not only be diminished, but entirely unknown.’ He went so far as to express his conviction that 200 cups daily would not be too much. It is scarcely surprising, therefore, to find the Dutch East India Company liberally rewarding this eloquent apostle of the new drink. Scarcely less enthusiastic was the professor of physic in a German University, who declared tea ‘The defence against the enemies of health; the universal panacea which has long been sought for.'”
History, like the seasons, but on a much wider arc, repeats itself with little tweaks now and again. Knowing our history can bring reassurance that tea and its drinkers and merchants have survived for centuries, even through our moments of angst. Brace yourself with another cup, or two, or 200, and endure the summer heat. Fall will arrive, the season will pass … pumpkin tea for anyone?
The illustration associated with this post is from “Tea & Tea Drinking” by Alfred Arthur Reade, London, 1884.