If you haven’t noticed from reading the frequent posts in these pages, one of my favorite tea-related topics to write about is tea books of yesteryear. It’s a topic that wouldn’t have been nearly so easy to write about a decade or more ago when older, more obscure books were harder to access. Nowadays, with the increasing number of dusty old public domain tomes being made available online such books are literally a click away.
There’s not much information available on the author Alfred Arthur Reade, at least not that I was able to locate. What we do know is that some of the books he wrote were on such topics as temperance, drugs and a how-to manual on writing in the English language. More relevant to tea drinkers is a title he published in 1884, called Tea and Tea Drinking (also availabe here).
In his opening chapter on the Introduction of Tea, the author places its first appearance in England at 1610, though he says that this is not set in stone and quotes one writer who marks the date as early as 1571. What is undeniable, says Reade, is that in the early days such small amounts of tea were imported to Europe that it was costly enough to be out of reach to most potential consumers.
Other chapters tackle such topics as The Cultivation of Tea and its introduction from China to India, and a subject that doesn’t turn up very often in older books about tea – How to Make Tea. This chapter looks at a variety of ways of making tea, including Siamese, Chinese and Russian methods, among others. As the author notes, in a statement that’s just as applicable today, “the mode of preparation of tea for the table has always given rise to discussion.”
Reade also tackles tea’s impact on physiology with such topics as Tea and Physical Endurance and Tea as a Stimulant. The former chapter even finds him exploring the option of using cold tea as a summer drink, as well as its benefits for participants in various sports and activities.
When reading what commentators from yesteryear have to say about the benefits and drawbacks of tea, you’ll find that there are probably as many writers ready to sing its praises as there are those who believe that it’s one of the most evil poisons known to mankind. Reade himself seems to fall in with the former camp for the most part, but he acknowledges these divergent opinions with a chapter titled The Friends and the Foes of Tea.
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