Tea Leaves-1


By Francis Leggett & Co.

"Pray thee, let it serve for table-talk."--Merchant of Venice.

"A cup of tea!" Is there a phrase in our language more

eloquently significant of physical and mental refreshment, more

expressive of remission of toil and restful relaxation, or so

rich in associations with the comforts and serenity of home life,

and also with unpretentious, informal, social intercourse?

If rank in the scale of importance of any material thing is to be

determined by its extensive and continued influence for good, to

tea must be conceded a very elevated position among those

agencies which have contributed to man's happiness and well-


Most remarkable changes have occurred in the production of tea

during the past century. About sixty years ago all the tea

consumed on the globe was grown in China and Japan. Our knowledge

of the growth and manufacture of tea was then of an uncertain and

confused character, and no European had ever taken an active part

in the production of a pound of tea. To-day, about one-half of

the tea consumed in the world is grown and manufactured upon

English territory, on plantations owned and superintended by

Englishmen, who have thoroughly mastered every detail of the art,

while nearly all the tea drank in Great Britain is English grown.

Twenty years ago, the suggestion that tea might yet be grown upon

a commercial scale in the United States was received with

derision by the Press and its readers; but one tea estate in

South Carolina has during the past year grown, manufactured, and

sold at a profit, several thousand of the tea of good quality,

which brought a price equal to that of foreign fine teas.

A natural taste for hot liquid foods and drinks is common to all

races of men, and they may be traced in the soups of meat and

fish, and in their decoctions or infusions of vegetable leaves,

seeds, barks, etc.

Hot "teas" were in habitual use as beverages among civilized

nations long before they ever heard of Chinese tea, of coffee, or

of cocoa. The English people, for instance, freely indulged in

infusions of Sage leaves, of leaves of the Wild Marjoram, the

Sloe, or blackthorn, the currant, the Speedwell, and of Sassafras

bark. In America, Sassafras leaves and bark were used for teas by

the early colonists, as were the leaves of Gaultheria

(Wintergreen), the Ledums (Labrador tea), Monarda (Horsemint,

Bee-balm, or Oswego tea), Ceanothus (New Jersey tea or red-root),

etc. Charles Lamb, in his essay upon Chimney Sweeps, mentions the

public house of Mr. Reed, on Fleet street in London, as a place

where Sassafras tea (and Salop) were still served daily to

customers in his time, about 1823. Mate, Yerba, or Paraguay tea

has been a national beverage for millions of people in the

central portions of South America for several centuries.

With the exception of Mate, not one of the above named

substitutes for Chinese tea contains the peculiar nerve

stimulating and nerve refreshing constituent upon which depends

the physiological value of Black or Green tea, the Theine: nor do

they possess the characteristic flavoring principle or essential

oil which distinguishes commercial teas from all other known

plant products. The Ledums are indeed accredited by Professor

James F. Johnson (Chemistry of Common Life) with stimulating and

narcotic properties, but the same may be said of tobacco.

A comforting, stimulating and healthful beverage, which has been

in habitual use by the most extensive nation of the globe for

more than a thousand years, and which has at length become a

necessity as well as a luxury for seven hundred millions of

people, or of a majority of the inhabitants of the earth, is

certainly worthy of more than the passing thought which

accompanies its daily use in the form of "cup of tea."

Douglass Jerriold, writing of tea, some 50 years ago, said:--

"Of the social influence of Tea upon the masses of the people in

this country, it is not very easy to say too much. It has

civilized brutish and turbulent homes, saved the drunkard from

his doom, and to many a mother, who else have indeed been most

wretched and forlorn, it has given cheerful, peaceful thoughts

that have sustained her. Its work among us in England and

elsewhere, aye, throughout the civilized world, has been

humanizing and good. Its effect upon us all has been socially

healthful; peaceful, gentle and hearty."

There is no article of common use about which so little is

popularly known, or of which "we know so many things which are

not so." The very names of the various kinds of tea which we use

are mysteries of meaning to those who have not made special

researches into the subject. And the cause of the distinctions in

the qualities of different teas, as of black and green, are still

matters of uncertainty and controversy among many dealers of

teas, as well as among unscientific travelers and some untraveled

scientists. The enthusiastic collector of writings upon tea by

self qualified experts, will find himself involved in a maze of

contradictory assertions and opinions from which there is no

escape save by the exercise of judicial powers, by an independent

exercise of his own judgment, in separating truth from error. And

unless he is a proficient in physiology and chemistry, he will

find himself baffled at last, because several important

scientific questions concerning Tea are still unsolved by

adequate authority.

Then there are otherwise sane persons who profess to discover in

the habitual use of tea by whole nations a cause of national

deterioration. We record the fact as one of the curiosities of

mental perversity in an age of general intelligence.

How the inestimable qualities which lie latent in the green leaf

of the Tea tree or bush were discovered and developed by the

Chinese is one of those mysteries which we shall never solve. For

it is a remarkable fact that neither the green leaf of the tea

plant, nor the tea leaf dried without mans agency, conveys to

human senses any hint of the agreeable or valuable qualities for

which tea is esteemed, and which have been developed by the art

of man. A leaf of any one of the mints, or of the sassafras tree,

or of the wintergreen vine, after being bruised in the hand and

applied to the nose or the mouth, makes instant impression upon

the senses of taste and small, and at once informs us of its

distinctive qualities. Not so with the tea leaf; a hundred

valueless plants impress those senses more vividly than the leaf

which is worth them all. Infuse the green leaf of the Tea plant

and the prized properties of "Tea" are still wanting, but in

their stead, positively deleterious qualities are said to appear

in the infusion. Commercial Tea must be regarded as an artificial

production. A certain degree of artificial heat, of manipulation,

and induced chemical changes, are the agents which develop the

flavor and aroma of the tea leaf. And the nature of man's

treatment and manipulation determines in large measure not only

the desired flavor, but the distinguishing character of the tea,

its rank as a green, a black, or an "English Breakfast Tea,"

all three of which may be evolved by skilful manipulation from

the same tea bush, at the same time.

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