History and Origin of Tea

As China and Japan[15] are the only countries known to us, where the Tea shrub is cultivated for use, we may reasonably conclude, that it is indigenous to one of them, if not to both. What motive first led the natives to use an infusion of Tea in the present manner is uncertain; but probably in order to correct the water, which is said to be brackish and ill-tasted in many parts of those countries[16]. Of the good effects of Tea in such cases, we have a remarkable proof in Kalm’s journey through North America, which his translator gives us in the following words:

“Tea is differently esteemed by different people, and I think we would be as well, and our purses much better, if we were without tea and coffee. However, I must be impartial, and mention in praise of Tea, that if it be useful, it must certainly be so in summer, on such journies as mine, through a[20] desart country, where one cannot carry wine, or other liquors, and where the water is generally unfit for use, as being full of insects. In such cases it is very pleasant when boiled, and Tea is drank with it; and I cannot sufficiently describe the fine taste it has in such circumstances. It relieves a weary traveller more than can be imagined, as I have myself experienced, together with a great many others, who have travelled through the desart forests of America: on such journies Tea is found to be almost as necessary as victuals[17].”

About the year 1600, Texeira, a Spaniard, saw the dried Tea leaves in Malacca, where he was informed that the Chinese prepared a drink from this vegetable; and, in 1633, Olearius found this practice prevalent among the Persians, who procured the plant under the name of Cha orchia, from China, by means of the Usbeck Tartars. In 1639, Starkaw, the Russian Ambassador, at the Court of the Mogul, Chau Altyn, partook of the infusion of Tea; and, at his departure, was offered a quantity of it, as a present for the Czar Michael Romanof,[21] which the Ambassador refused, as being an article for which he had no use[18].

This article was first introduced into Europe by the Dutch East India Company, very early in the last century; and a quantity of it was brought over from Holland about the year 1666[19], by Lord Arlington and Lord Ossory. In consequence of this, Tea soon became known amongst people of fashion, and its use, by degrees, since that period, has become general.

It is, however, certain, that before this time, drinking Tea, even in public coffee-houses, was not uncommon; for, in 1660, a duty of four-pence per gallon was laid on the liquor made and sold in all coffee-houses[20].

So early as 1678, Cornelius Bontekoe, a Dutch physician, published a treatise, in his own language, on Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate[21]. In this he shews himself a very zealous advocate for Tea, and denies the possibility of its injuring the stomach, although taken to the greatest excess, as far as one or two hundred cups in a day. To what motive we are to impute the partiality of Dr. Bontekoe, is uncertain at this period; but as he was first physician to the Elector of Brandenburgh, and probably of considerable eminence and character, his eulogium might[23] tend greatly to promote its use: however, we find its importation and consumption were daily augmented; and, before the conclusion of the last century, it became generally known among the common people in England.

It is foreign to my subject, or it would perhaps afford to a speculative mind no inconsiderable satisfaction, to trace the consumption from its first entrance at the Custom-house to the present amazing imports. At this time upwards of twenty-three millions of pounds are annually allowed for home consumption; and the East India Company have generally in their warehouses a supply at least for one year.

It is probable that the Dutch, as they traded considerably to Japan about the time Tea was introduced into Europe, first brought this article from thence. But now China is the general mart, and the province Fokien, or Fo-chen[22], the principal country, that supplies both the Empire and Europe with this commodity.

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