The general consensus these days is that tea is not bad for you – and there is a fair amount of evidence that it might even be quite good for you. There are exceptions, of course. Like the woman who drank excessive amounts of iced black tea over many years and suffered some unpleasant side effects. But if consumed in moderation – or even moderate excess (guilty) – you could do a lot worse than tea.

But the idea that tea was a healthy drink was not always thus. From the time that tea came to Europe in the early seventeenth century there were those who praised it, but there were also those who cautioned against the ill effects that would surely result from consuming it. This sort of thing was still going on in 1833, when a certain John Cole, of London, penned a paper called On The Deleterious Effects Produced By Drinking Tea And Coffee In Excessive Quantities.

He goes on at length – nearly five pages – and, for obvious reasons, we’ll focus on his thoughts regarding the perceived evils of tea. Early on, Cole, a medical man who read and debated the pros and cons of his paper in front of the London Medical Society that year, sums things up by noting that tea seems “to have the power of reducing the constitution.” He does note that this is the result of “excessive” consumption, but doesn’t define what that means. I personally don’t consider my 6-8 cups per day to be excessive but some might.

Cole goes on to describe some of the supposed ill effects of tea, such as a gnawing in the stomach, a feeling of fullness in the neck and a flushed face and sparkling eyes. And that’s not the end of it. Next up are a number of case studies. Several of these look at women aged 25-40, who were experiencing mostly stomach problems, supposedly from drinking tea, and one unfortunate woman who “suffered sudden attacks of Insensibility” after drinking tea.

Which sounds like grim enough stuff. But over the years I’ve been writing about tea I’ve come to learn that the tea of yesteryear was frequently adulterated, sometimes with mostly innocuous substances and other times with more scary ingredients. Which leads one to wonder if tea was really the culprit in these cases or not.

In any event, if you’d like to read Cole’s letter in its entirety, go here.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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