American Tea Culture.
During a period of at least 40 years, tea plants have been
cultivated by a few experimenters in the southern United states,
and American tea, grown South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, has
satisfactorily supplied the family needs of a hundred or more
persons, at a cost not exceeding the retail price of good foreign
When Mr. Wm. G. Le Duc, Commissioner of the Department of
Agriculture at Washington, seriously recommended systematic tea
culture in the southern States, press writers and press readers
found a new subject of mirth and standing jokes which lasted for
several years. To be sure, those who laughed so long and loudly
did not know the difference between a Chinese tea plant and a
China Aster, and few of them had ever heard that in certain tea
growing districts of China, ice and snow were familiar associates
of the hardy Chinese tea plant. Enquiry would have taught them
that here in the United States individual tea plants had for many
years withstood a freezing temperature in winter. Better informed
persons fell back upon the objection that Americans could never
learn the secrets of curing tea, and finally that the very low
cost of Chinese labor would be fatal to American competition. But
the mills of the Gods grind right along, regardless of individual
opinions or precedents. Foreign tea plants have been so
acclimatised in South Carolina that a plantation of tea has
withstood a winter temperature of zero, the lowest recorded
degree for 150 years; the secrets of curing the leaf have been
disclosed and successfully practiced by Americans, and a cheap
form of child labor for picking the tea leaves has resulted in
commercial success for American grown tea.
This result is due to the encouragement of the U. S. Agricultural
Bureau, and the persistent efforts of Dr. Charles U. Shepard, at
Summerville, S. C., who continued his exertions to found a
permanent tea plantation on a large scale long after the
Government authorities had ceased to hope for success. In Dr.
Shepard's tea gardens the deficiency in rain fall is made good by
deep pulverization of the soil and artificial irrigation; the
natural shade of jungle or forest under which the seed germinates
and grows where the plant is indigenous, is supplied by
artificial shade; and the expensive process of picking the leaves
is cheapened by employing children, who are paid in money, and
also by being taught to read and write in a school maintained on
the premises by Dr. Shepard. Machinery has supplanted some of the
tedious hand-manipulation of tea in Dr. Shepard's factory, and
further progress in this direction is constantly being made.
The Pinehurst tea--for Pinehurst is the designation of Dr.
Shepard's plantation at Summerville--sometimes disappoints those
accustomed to the strong flavors and pronounced fragrance of some
foreign teas, but it contains a full proportion of that
stimulating, sustaining constituent of all genuine teas, theine,
as consumers all discover. Like our American grapes and wines,
American teas will doubtless improve by continuous cultivation
upon a given soil, and probably will at length develop
characteristics of their own, as precious in the estimation of
tea drinkers as those of the exceptional foreign teas.
Impressed by the importance of Dr. Shepard's success, and the
latent possibilities of this new field of American enterprise,
Messrs. Francis H. Leggett & Co., of New York, have purchased
from Dr. Shepard the entire crop of American Pinehurst teas for
1900, amounting in quantity to several thousand pounds.
How Shall We Make Tea?
How shall tea be drawn or infused? Is there but one standard
method for all teas, or all persons? Certainly not. A method
which will suit very many delicate tastes may be briefly stated:
Use water as free as possible from impurities, from earthly
matters like lime. If water is boiled too long its contained air
is expelled and the tea will have a "flat" taste. Use an
earthen teapot by preference; one which is never applied to any
other purpose. A preliminary warming of the dry teapot is
advised. Drop in your tea leaves, and pour on the whole quantity
of water required, while at boiling temperature. Set in warm but
not very hot situation to steep, avoiding so far as practicable,
loss of vapor and aroma from the teapot.
Now, as to the length of time tea should steep:--it will vary
with different teas and different tastes. Some steep tea but
three minutes; others double the time; while still others extend
the time to 15 minutes. In any event, as soon as the
characteristic flavor is extracted from the leaves, known by the
loss of an agreeable tea-odor in the withdrawn leaves, the
beverage will be improved rather than impaired by pouring it off
into a clean teapot, in which the tea may then be preserved for a
long time without injury.
To some tastes, a little of the tannin is agreeable, and its
absence would be missed. Then as to sugar or milk: it is evidence
of exaggerated personality (conceit, some call it), to declare
that milk or cream or sugar injure the flavor of tea. As well
insist upon a special spice being used for all viands because the
critic likes it. To hold the Chinese up as examples of what is
proper in tea drinking is to offer a limit to human progress. As
milk or cream neutralize the tannin to a considerable extent,
they are so far desirable, without regard to taste.
OVER MY TEA CUP.
by Charles J. Everett
This homely can of painted tin
Is casket precious in my eyes;
Its withered fragrant leaves within,
Beyond all costly gems I prize.
For for those crumpled leaves of tea,
The sunbeams of long summer days,
The song of bird, the hum of bee,
The cricket's evening hymn of praise,
The gorgeous colors of sunrise,
The joy that greets each new-born day;
The glowing tints of sunset's skies,
The calm that comes with evening grey;
The chatter of contented toil,
The merry laugh of childish glee,
The tonic virtues of the soil,
Were caught and gathered with the tea.
Lifeless those withered leaves may seem,
Locked fast in slumber deep as death,
But soon the Kettle's boiling steam
May rouse to life their fragrant breath.
With sigh of deep content we breath
The sweet mists rising lazily,
With eager, parted lips receive taste of tea.
Forlight and warmth and mood of men,
Whate'er the plant hath heard or seen
Or felt, while fixed in field or fen,
And stored within its depths serene,
Are now transmuted into thrills
Of sense or feeling, echoes faint
From peaceful perfumed tea-cladhills,
From placid Orientals quaint.
And fancies born in other lands,
Which dormant lie in magic tea,
Dream-castles fair not made with hands,
By some mysterious alchemy
Emerge from cloudland into sight,
Transform the sombre working-world,
The gloomy hours of day or night
From leaden hue to tint of gold,
Bring rest to wearied heart and brain,
Kind nature's soul to us reveal,
Enlarge the realm of Fancy's reign,
Renew the power to see and feel
The radiance of the rising sun,
The sunset's glow, the moon's pale light,
The promise of a day begun,
The rest from toil that comes with night.
And as I sip my cup of tea,
Though not a friend may be in sight,
I know that a brave company
Is taking tea with me this night.