For Drinkers of Tea

Spring Pouchong
Spring Pouchong

Americans love their coffee. Which is admittedly an offbeat way to start an article about tea, but it’s true. By one estimate, we drink a little more than 20 times as much coffee as tea on a per capita basis. One popular assumption about our tea drinking habits here in the good old USA is that after the antics of the Boston Tea Party, Americans pretty much swore off of tea. Which is not exactly correct.

For one entertaining and informative look at tea consumption in the America of yesteryear we can turn to an article that appeared in the New York Times on December 11, 1870. It’s titled “For Drinkers of Tea,” and we’ll skip the wordy subtitle that seems to be the standard for books and articles of this era.

The article claims that tea imports to what was not yet the USA got rolling in a modest way by about 1767, “with a few chests of tea.” By 1790, seventeen years after the Boston Tea Party, that number had jumped to 3,047,242 pounds and by 1870, when the article was written, imports were expected to hit 46,000,000 pounds. By that time New York had replaced Boston as “the great centre of receipts and distribution.”

Among the other interesting tidbits in the article are the classifications of teas, many of which will be unfamiliar to today’s tea drinkers, “Black teas are divided into Oolongs, Ningyons, Souchongs, Pouchongs and Pekoes; green teas into Young Hyson, Gunpowders, Imperials, Hysons, Twankeys and Hyson Skins.”

Also presented, the role a tea taster plays in the tea trade and the ever important segment on “How To Make A Cup of Good Tea.” Among the worthwhile advice presented in this section are a strong emphasis on the quality of water used and a caution against steeping the leaves too long.

For fans of the bizarre, there’s also a morbid tidbit about the experience of a lady out West, who “made ineffectual efforts with a spoon to get some of the precious herb from the middle of her tea-box. Scrape all she could nothing would come! “At last, with a mighty effort, a Chinaman’s head, with pig-tail and all, was extricated from the box.”

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