The Dutch were among the first to bring tea to Europe. At that time, each transport of a shipment of this precious commodity from its source in China to what soon proved to be an eager and thirsty public was fraught with hazards and took months. I, for one, am grateful for the profit motive that drove them to take those chances. Tea is more available these days, too, because of them.
The tea ball got rolling, so to speak, in 1560 A.D. when a Portuguese missionary Jesuit Father Jasper de Cruz personally experienced and wrote about tea. Soon after, tea was introduced to Portugal and was shipped to Lisbon. From there, Dutch ships carried this precious cargo to Holland (The Netherlands) as well as France and the Baltic countries. Avid tea drinkers paid as much as the equivalent of $100 per pound, confining tea drinking in a time when wealth was primarily in the hands of the aristocracy to their realm. It was an age of exploration and discovery, so tea represented the Eastern lands many of them had only heard of but never seen. The beverage was call by the Cantonese word “cha” and served mainly to men. This spread to the New World in the mid-1600s when Dutch colonies were established there.
As popularity grew over the next century, demand rose, and the cost per pound was low enough for tea to be sold in food shops in The Netherlands and France. The result: tea time became a commonplace occurrence. Dutch inns started serving tea to patrons in their restaurants. Even taverns made tea available in hot portable tea sets, enjoyed at garden tables. By the 1700s, these two countries led the pack in Europe in tea consumption, and in the early 18th century Dutch settlers established tea plantations on the island of Java and later on Sumatra and Sulawesi, where it is grown even now.
The Dutch tend to avoid milk in their tea, especially since they are fond of flavored teas such as Earl Grey, Strawberry, Cinnamon, Mango, Raspberry, Blackcurrant, and Orange. A quick tea break in the afternoon usually includes a traditional treat called a stroopwafel (syrup waffle) that is served to you on top of your teacup (leave it there until it feels warm so the caramelly filling is softened). Living in a northern clime where sunshine is not quite as plentiful as in such places as the Sahara, they tend to take advantage of even a slight uptick in temperatures when accompanied by the rays of Old Sol to take tea outdoors. Their teapots tend, therefore, to be a bit heftier than the delicate bone china kind seen in tea rooms in the UK and other European countries as well as the U.S.
Tea is readily available in restaurants and is usually served like the British do, including scones and other traditional treats. I remember a lovely time in a café in an old windmill where my tour group had afternoon tea a number or years ago. They weren’t too surprised when I asked for milk for my tea (but I think I may have heard a snicker or two when they turned away).
One way to add a “Dutch Touch” to your teatime is to include some of that shade of blue made popular by the Delft Pottery Factory in your décor, especially if your teawares, tablecloth, or other items include windmills. A vase or two of tulips in brilliant hues of yellow, red, purple, etc., will also help.
If you happen to make your way in 2012 to Amsterdam, capital city of The Netherlands, don’t miss the Coffee and Tea Museum. (It’s closed now for renovation, but should be open next year.) Admission is free. For a high-class tea, try the Hotel Sofitel (also called “The Grand”). Their clean white tablewares and linens will showcase the wonderful teas and treats that await you. The city has quite a variety of coffee and tea shops, too, to keep your tea thirst slaked during your stay there.
The Dutch also love their chocolate and in fact are world-renowned for it, so all you chocoholics will have no trouble satisfying your “urge to splurge” while visiting there. They’re also totally gaga over licorice; you might end up getting hooked!
Get out your Amsterdam teapot to add an extra air of the Dutch to your teatime!
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