Tea and Temperance

I’ve written a number of articles at this site and my own about the many and varied things you can do with tea and alcohol. This is no time to rehash the topic, which you can read more about here, for starters. Suffice to say that tea and alcohol come in two main forms – tea mixed with other ingredients to make a cocktail of some sort or one of a variety of alcoholic beverages actually produced with tea as a flavoring agent.

On the flip side of the coin is the relationship between tea and teetotalism. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines teetotalism as “the principle or practice of complete abstinence from alcoholic drinks” and a person who engages in this practice is known as a teetotaler. Both words are thought to date from about 1834, but despite the resemblance to the word tea and popularity of tea with some teetotalers, one apparently has nothing to do with the other. Look for more on the origins of these words here.

An article of this scope is not sufficient to adequately examine the relationship between tea and teetotalism, but a few examples will help to demonstrate that relationship. As one author noted, in an essay on the history of drinking practices in Great Britain, “the availability of safe and nonintoxicating beverages, a large per capita increase in tea consumption after 1840, and the establishment of eating and drinking places besides the public house all contributed to reducing the significance of alcohol as beverage and nutrient.”

A History of the World in Six GlassesIn his fascinating book, A History of the World in Six Glasses, author Tom Standage not only credits tea with improving the health of the British public as far back as several centuries ago (due to its antibacterial properties and the fact that the often unsafe water had to be boiled) but also notes that with the rise of industrialization tea was favored over the beer often given to agricultural workers due to the fact that it increased alertness and had no intoxicating qualities.

Finally, as one student noted in her thesis on tea, “A new emphasis on morality included a popular temperance movement in the middle of the nineteenth century, and the working classes needed to find a cheap substitute for alcohol. Inexpensive tea arrived at exactly the right moment in history to take this place…The temperance movement had become a powerful movement among the working class in the 1840’s when per capita tea consumption rise sharply.”

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One thought on “Tea and Temperance

  1. Pingback: Making Wine from Tea? « Tea Blog

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