Tea Leaves-1

TEA LEAVES

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-


being.






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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