Say what you want about Google’s ambitious plan to digitize every book in the known universe (and perhaps in all parallel universes too), but you can’t say that it hasn’t been a boon to tea historians and anyone else who has an interest in seeing how tea used to be produced and consumed. A cursory search of the vast Google archive shows a number of interesting tea-related works from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and a few that go back as far as the late seventeenth century, the same century in which tea was introduced to Europe.
One of the more interesting works I ran across as I browsed this archive was The Tea Cyclopaedia, which first appeared in 1882. In keeping with the fashion of the times, its rather wordy full title is The Tea Cyclopedia: Articles On Tea, Tea Science, Blights, Soils And Manures, Cultivation, Buildings, Manufacture, With Tea Statistics. It’s unclear exactly who the author of said work is, as he (presumably) is identified merely as ‘The Editor of the ‘Indian Tea Gazette,”‘ which had offices in Calcutta and London. This is significant because, as noted in a recent article in these pages, the British began producing tea in India in the early nineteenth century and the output there had grown considerably by the time this book came out.
As the title suggests, the book contains a lot of detailed technical information which is likely only to be of interest to tea growers and producers of the day. But if blights, soils and manures aren’t the sort of thing you consider to be riveting reading, there’s still plenty of interesting information to be had. You’ll have to skim around the book’s nearly 400 pages to get at these not so technical bits, but it makes for good reading nonetheless.
Among the highlights, the first section, which provides a brief overview of some of general facts about tea, at least as they were perceived at the time, including some thoughts on caffeine content and tea’s “Medical” properties. There are also sections encompassing Tea In India and other countries, such as Java, Japan and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Cultivation and manufacture come in for a look, and there’s a miscellaneous section that looks at topics like Brick Tea, “Creamy” Indian Tea, and tea consumption in England and China.
In addition to the various other goodies contained therein, the book closes with a listing of some of the publisher’s other works, including one on tea, and advertisements for such high-tech gadgets (for the time) as a Stylographic Pen and a handheld Roller Copying Press.
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