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England

Tea History & Culture

Tea Smugglers: 18th Century Bad Boys

January 31, 2017

It’s very easy to get a cup of tea in England. But it wasn’t always that way. In the 1700s, tea was so expensive that only aristocrats could afford it. Prices ran so steep thanks to an exorbitant government tax on the import and the East India Company’s monopoly on the good. The EIC could charge high prices, the government could stick a giant tax on top, and people who wanted tea were forced to shell out top dollar, making the import a luxury item that only elite citizens could afford. But the lower classes needed their fix, too. To their rescue came a band of heroes: tea smugglers.

These smugglers transported non-EIC tea across the seas but didn’t pass through customs, avoiding the tax. At first, tea smugglers sold reduced-price tea to personal contacts near the coasts. But soon, tea smuggling became a sophisticated operation with large, armed ships dropping anchor before tea would be transported farther and farther inland.

Tea smugglers enjoyed popular support in Great Britain for a number of reasons. First, the covert industry supplied jobs. Second, people loved to drink tea. And third, the British were fed up with taxes. As the 1790 cartoon below illustrates, British citizens felt heavily burdened by taxes, and circumventing the sky-high tea tax was one way to stick it to the man.

But when a prominent group of smugglers known as the Hawkhurt Gang got violent, the public began to turn against them:

In 1747, the government seized one of the Hawkhurt Gang’s illegal shipments. The gang responded by raiding the customs house in Poole where their goods were being stored, as depicted below:

The government learned that one of the locals who witnessed the ordeal, shoemaker Daniel Chater, had worked on a farm alongside Hawkhurt gangster Joe Diamond in the past. When the government arrested Diamond in Chichester months later, they needed someone to confirm Diamond’s identity, and summoned Chater. Chater and a customs officer started their journey to Chicester, but never made it. Along the way, tea smugglers barbarically tortured and killed them.

The brutal murders of Chater and the customs officer incited public outcry and a swift government response. The government issued rewards for gang members and many faced arrest or execution.

Still, tea smuggling continued for another forty years, thanks to the nation’s insatiable thirst for tea.

In 1783, the government conducted a study that found 13 million pounds of tea were consumed in England each year, but that only 6 million had been imported by the East India Company—the only company that could legally bring tea into the country. That meant that most of the tea in England was coming from smugglers. Something had to be done.

And so, the very next year, Parliament introduced the Commutation Act of 1784.

The Act reduced the tax on tea from 119% to 12.5%. Smugglers could no longer offer a better price for the same good, so they became obsolete.

And so ended a century of covert tea operations, and the beginning of accessible, enthusiastic tea drinking that continues today.

Tea History & Culture

How Taking Tea Sans Sugar Meant Opposing Slavery

January 26, 2017

Today, sprinkling a spoonful of sugar into your tea doesn’t say much about your views on human trafficking. But in the late 18th century in England, it did.

In 1791, about 400,000 Brits boycotted slave-made sugar from the West Indies as a protest against slavery and Great Britain’s failure to pass a bill abolishing the slave trade. Drinking tea was a hugely important social custom in England, and with the sugar boycott, it became a political one. As NPR put it, the sweet condiment “came to epitomize the evils of slavery.”

Great Britain benefitted economically from slavery, with slaves on plantations in the West Indies pumping out valuable trading goods like sugar, which also drove consumerism in England. The Empire also profited from the slave trade, trafficking more than 3 million Africans across the Atlantic Ocean between 1700 and 1810.

To abolitionists, this was morally abhorrent and had to end.  The sugar boycott provided the average British citizen with one way to not only advocate for the end of slavery, but to put a dent in the economic influence that slavery had on their Empire.

Printer William Fox started the boycott by publishing a pamphlet titled An Address to the People of Great Britain on the Utility of Refraining from the Use of West India Sugar and Rum.

That long titled boiled down to one main takeaway: every time you add sugar to your tea, you’re supporting slave labor. For those against slavery, opting out of sugar was a simple way to communicate a political and moral position on the hotly debated issue. Fox’s pamphlet surpassed Thomas Paine’s American Revolution-inspiring Common Sense as the most distributed pamphlet of the century.

According to the BBC, the boycott certainly made an impact: sugar sales plummeted by a third to a half, and hundreds of thousands signed petitions calling on the British Empire to outlaw the slave trade. As BBC put it, the boycott “is one of the earliest examples of consumers using their purchasing power to reject the trade in goods which have not been ethically produced.”

To meet tea-drinkers’ sugar fix, grocers started stocking sugar from the East Indies, where sugar production didn’t rely on slave labor.

At home, people made sure to let their tea party guests know where their sugar came from. Sugar bowls like the one below added the label “not made by slave labor” to assuage guests’ concerns about a host’s ethical or political stance.

Today, Fair Trade, non-GMO Project, or Organic labels aim to both help consumers make informed choices and communicate those choices to others.

Some British citizens responded to the sugar boycott by switching to green tea, a beverage that didn’t call for sugar the same way black tea might to some palettes.

The sugar boycott lost its mojo as time went on—particularly as Brits saw the violence endured by French citizens for resisted the monarchy—but Great Britain did eventually abolish the trade of slaves in the British Empire in 1807. To incentivize Brits to follow the new law, the government threatened to fine ship owners a steep £100 for every slave found on British ships. Although the slave trade was now illegal, slavery itself remained legal 1833, when the British Empire abolished the practice in all its territories.

Be aware of what you put in your tea cup.  As history has proven, it may have a large impact.

Tea Travel

8 Bucket List Travel Destinations for Tea Lovers

March 7, 2016

Nothing beats starting the day off with a great cup of tea – except maybe starting the day with a great cup of tea in a foreign country. Tea has been a household staple in many parts of the world for ages and many of the traditions that correspond to tea still exist today as a staple to their respective cultures. If you’re a tea lover, you have to travel to these countries so you can experience the wonders of tea from their points of view:

Turkey:

Turkey is one of the biggest tea drinking nations in the world. The people drink up to four or five cups of tea per day, so you won’t feel out of place when it comes time to satisfy your tea craving. Tea is so strongly integrated into the culture that it is even considered an important part of Turkish hospitality. From offers of free cups of tea while shopping to complimentary tea service when staying at a local guesthouse, there won’t be a shortage of opportunities to sample the many different flavors of Turkish tea.

Russia:

Russia is a country famous for two drinks: vodka and tea. Their tea consumption is unparalleled and has become an extremely significant aspect of Russian culture. Although other types of tea are available, the Russian population almost exclusively drinks black loose-leaf tea, which is brewed in a small teapot with a high concentration of tea leaves to water (a concoction known as “zavarka”). The mixture is then mixed with boiled water, the quantity dependent on the drinker’s preferred strength. Tea in Russia is also not meant to be served “naked,” or without food to accompany it. Gathering for tea is the most common way for people to socialize in Russia, so therefore there is almost no occasion or situation where it isn’t appropriate to sip on a cup of tea.

China:

Chinese tea culture is the oldest in the world, dating back to the 10th century B.C. The tea plant actually originated in China, so there’s definitely no shortage of historic tea regions to visit (to name a few – West Lake, Wuyishan and Yunnan). Long before tea became the country’s beverage of choice, it was considered a medicinal staple, said to promote long life and vitality. In today’s modern society, tea drinking customs and traditions are still prevalent – though at a more sociable level. Travelers are often invited to join their hosts for a cup of tea and can also enjoy it at well-known teahouses across the country. Tea lovers can enjoy a variety of tea flavors in China, ranging from green tea, to white, black and flowering teas.

Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka boasts a $1.5 billion tea industry, making it one of the biggest growers and exporters of black and green tea worldwide. Its renowned Ceylon tea comes in a range of flavors that fall into three main categories: low-grown, medium-grown, and high-grown, referring to the various elevations of the plantations. The nation’s selection of tea plantations offers visitors a chance to taste the locally grown tea and learn the intricacies of production firsthand. Tea is the refreshment of choice for most Sri Lankans, so you can expect to be presented with a freshly brewed pot at any social gathering.

Morocco:

In Morocco, brewing and drinking tea is a tradition carried out with great care, representing both hospitality and friendship. Tea preparation, referred to as “atai,” is typically executed by the male head of the family and considered to be an art form passed down through generations. Mint leaves and sugar are added to a green tea base to create the signature Moroccan mint tea, which is served throughout the day, though particularly at mealtimes. The tea is served in small glasses and is only considered drinkable if it has foam on top. The pouring of the tea is done from a long curved spout and from a height of at least twelve inches – a practiced method that, when done correctly, signifies an experienced host or hostess. These many customs are exclusive to the Moroccan tea drinking culture, something that must be experienced firsthand.

India:

In India, locals consume chai tea on a daily basis. Seriously, you can barely walk a block without coming across it on the street, in a train station or at a restaurant. Tea lovers can travel to the famous town of Darjeeling, which is home to some of the most beautiful tea plantations in the world. There they can admire stunning views while sampling their famous Darjeeling tea, a staple to the Indian tea drinking community.

Japan:

Tea is the most common drink in Japan and an integral part of the country’s culture. The beverage can be found in practically all restaurants, as well as in vending machines, kiosks, convenience stores and supermarkets. Tea is also served to visitors at various temples and gardens, allowing tourists to sample the unique flavors while simultaneously admiring the beautiful scenery. Green tea is the most common type of tea, and also the central element of the Japanese tea ceremony. These honored ceremonies can last for several hours and put an emphasis on etiquette and Zen-inspired spirituality. By attending one of these tea ceremonies, tea lovers can learn a lot about the Japanese culture and the important part tea plays in it.

England:

The phrase, “as English as a cup of tea,” depicts how ingrained tea is in English society. English people are particularly proud of being “tea people,” which can be seen in the nearly 2 kilograms of tea consumed per person each year. The most quintessential of English customs is perhaps the activity of afternoon tea. Traditional afternoon tea consists of various teas served with a selection of dainty sandwiches, scones, cakes and pastries. Most hotels in England also offer the opportunity to experience the best of the tradition, so tea lovers definitely won’t miss out when they visit.

Have you visited any other tea-loving countries? Let us know in the comments below!

Types of Tea

The History of Tea

January 16, 2016

With every sip or sniff, you can pretty much taste the history of tea. Something about this earthy beverage makes you feel grounded within the world. Perhaps, it’s the laws of matter: all matter in the universe has existed since the beginning of time and tea feels just as old. I imagine early cavemen and women brewing their first pots of tea after recently discovering fire. Drinking the warm beverage during those cold prehistoric nights.

Fine, you got me, tea isn’t that old, but it’s pretty ancient! Follow me as we journey around the world, because nothing has traveled around the world like tea.

China

The Emperor of China, Shen Neng, first discovered tea around 2737 B.C. while seeking to find remedies for his ailments. For several hundred years people drank this brew for its medicinal properties. Tea then moved into religious spaces, being used as an offering. During the Han Dynasty (202 B.C. – 220 A.D.), tea plants were scarce and only royalty and upper class people drank it. Around this time, people began to drink tea for taste and not just their health. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), more tea plants were discovered and tea drinking spread to the lower classes. The government took steps to support the planting of tea plants and the building of tea stores to ensure that everyone could enjoy the beverage. Also during the Tang Dynasty, tea spread to Japan by the Japanese priests who were studying in China at the time.

Japan

In Japan, tea is often associated with Zen Buddhism because the priests drank tea to stay alert and meditate. In keeping with ceremonial tradition, Buddhists developed the Japanese Tea Ceremony for sharing tea in a sacred and spiritual manner. Much like the Chinese emperors, the Japanese Emperor Shomu loved tea so much, he took steps to make sure tea became accessible to everyone.

In the 1500s, Sen No Rikkyu incorporated the ideas of simplicity and that each meeting should be special and unique into the tea ceremonies.  The traditional Japanese tea ceremony became more than just drinking tea; it became a spiritual experience that embodies harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.

England

Tea first arrived in England in the mid 17th century, and the London coffee houses were responsible for introducing the beverage to England. One of the first coffee house merchants to offer tea was Thomas Garway, who owned an establishment in Exchange Alley. He sold both liquid and dry tea to the public as early as 1657. A few years later, Garway created two advertisements about the virtues of tea: “making the body active and lusty” and “preserving perfect health until extreme old age.”

The refreshment quickly became popular in the coffee houses, and by 1700 more than 500 coffee houses sold it. However, the tavern owners and government weren’t too happy about it. The new beverage cut into their liquor sales and thus the tax revenue the government received. By 1750 tea had become the favored drink of Britain’s lower classes.

Much like the Japanese and Chinese, tea became part of a ritual. Even today, there are still certain Tea Etiquette followed when serving traditional afternoon tea and high tea. Having afternoon tea began by royal Britain’s Anna, the Duchess of Bedford. Even though it was typical to eat only breakfast and dinner in Britain, the Duchess started drinking tea and eating light refreshments when she started to feel hungry in the afternoons. She began inviting friends to join her and soon the afternoon tea tradition was born. Afternoon tea (or low tea) is usually served between 3 and 5 p.m. and is very different from high tea, during which a more hearty meal was eaten at the end of a workday. This usually happened around 5:30 or 6 p.m. for the working classes.

America

Like England, tea first came to North America in the 17th century through what was then the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (New York). When it was acquired by the British many of the tea drinking customs common in England were passed on. As tea drinking spread, special water pumps were installed in natural springs.  With water now readily available for making tea, places called “Tea Gardens” became popular at these tea springs. To symbolized wealth and elite social status, cities like Boston and Philadelphia adopted the English style of tea drinking and their use of fancy silver and porcelain tea products.

Tea trade between the colonies and England were centered in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Tea was heavily taxed due to the East India Company’s monopoly on tea imports. Colonists would often try to smuggle tea in. With more taxes being imposed, including, the Act of Parliament in 1767, American ports began refusing shipments of dutiable goods, including teas, causing ships to turn around with their cargo in some cases.  The Tea Act of 1773, which was intended to boost profits for the East India Company by bypassing local tea merchants and selling tea directly to the colonists, was the final straw that triggered The Boston Tea Party.

On Dec. 16, 1773, a group of protesters disguised as Mohawk Indians, along with the Sons of Liberty got the idea to dump the tea into Boston Harbor. The protestors and a large crowd of Bostonians, boarded the British East India Company ships, the Eleanor, Dartmouth and Beaver.  In  three hours, they dumped 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor. This event lead to the American Revolution.

Two major breakthrough’s in tea happened in the early 1900s. First, by Richard Blechynden, who in 1904, at America’s first World’s Fair, had the idea to serve his brewed tea on ice since drinking hot tea during a summer heat wave is essentially a recipe for a heat stroke. The second was by Thomas Sullivan of New York, who in 1908 is credited for inventing the tea bag. This tea merchant packaged loose teas in hand-sewn silk muslin bags to be shipped around the world. But one day while hile delivering the bags of tea to local restaurants, he noticed they were brewing the tea while still in the bags. This sparked his idea to market the bags as a new, convenient and less messy way of preparing tea.

Craft: The Different Types of Tea

Early teas were processed into cakes, similar to the modern pu-erh teas. They were dried, steamed or processed in some way. During the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 A.D.), some teas were ground and whipped into a frothy beverage like our current day matcha.  Thankfully, not long after this the Chinese began experimenting with loose-leaf teas.

It wasn’t until the 12th century when tea was divided based on the types of processing used to make them. In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.), foreign trade was increasing, so tea merchants needed a beverage that would last longer. The Chinese discovered fermenting and began crafting oolong and black teas that would store longer. At this point they also started experimenting with scenting and flavoring the teas in order to make the essence last.

The crafting of different types of teas continued to change over time. We now divide tea into four types: white teas, green tea, oolong teas (semi-fermented), and black teas (fermented). And there are subdivisions of these, such as pu-erh teas, which are double-fermented.

From its origins in China to its world notoriety, tea really has been through it all. It has  seen war and peace — which is truly something to drink to.

Tell us your favorite go to teas to sip on.