Page 11 - preparation of tea
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The original site of tea cultivation has been debated for years, but it is generally agreed that the first tea garden was in the monsoon region of southeast Asia, then unclaimed by any nation, and now lying in an area that includes both China and India.
By the 8th Century, commercial cultivation of tea had spread throughout the Chinese provinces and, thereafter, into Japan. As in China, tea was first the exclusive domain of Japan’s nobility and holy men. During the T’ang Dynasty (A.D. 620-907) its popularity spread to the common folk.
But it was nearly 1,000 years more before the pleasures of tea were introduced to the Western world. In the early 17th Century, Dutch traders brought tea from China and Japan to Europe.
By the mid-1600’s, tea had been introduced to Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, Russia and America. Teas’s popularity has been credited as playing a major role in opening the Orient to Occidental commerce.
While the Dutch held a near monopoly on trading for some time, it wasn’t long before Britain muscled its way into the importation of what would become that nation’s most popular beverage of ALL time.
After much bloodshed and some compromises, the British East India Trading Company wrested control of much of the tea trade from the Dutch and began importing enough tea that Britain’s public had access to the delicious new drink. Before that, tea was limited to the upper class and consumed at only the most elite gatherings, costing six to ten British pounds per pound of tea.
In 1657, Thomas Garway, an English proprietor, got the bright idea of offering tea to the public, and the beverage quickly became the drink of choice, far outpacing wines and liquors. Taverns became deserted in favor of “coffee houses” (which were so named because the public sale of coffee pre-dated the sale of tea by a few years).
Unfortunately for those in power, Britain was losing all the taxes that accompanied liquor sales. But the government quickly remedied that situation by imposing a tea tax.
The coffee houses wielded so much power that a threatened King Charles II shut them down in 1675, calling the selling of tea a virtual act of sedition. A month later, the king had to recant his edict when the tea, coffee and chocolate dealers rose up in protest. Of course, the fact that the king’s wife, Queen Catherine of Braganza, was a tea drinker didn’t help his cause, as she set an example for all of Britain’s subjects to indulge in the new fashionable drink.
Across the Atlantic, the tea tax was causing another sort of commotion in the American colonies. While many other British taxes on goods bound for America had been repealed, the three pence per pound of tea remained intact to save the financially mismanaged British East India Company. Over a five-year period (1768-72), the colonies paid duty on nearly 2 million pounds of tea.
Inflamed by the tax and other restrictions on the shipping and receiving of tea in America, the Sons of Liberty attempted to block the consignees from accepting the taxed tea. In Philadelphia and New York, tea ships were turned back before entering the harbor. In Charleston, the tea was unloaded but kept under bond in a damp warehouse.
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