For those of us enamored of the many charms of tea it’s easy sometimes to forget that we’re rather a minority here in these great United States. Contrary to what many may believe, however, Americans didn’t suddenly swear off drinking tea after the events of the Boston Tea Party. These days we’re best known for our consumption of iced tea and also for creating sweet tea, a syrupy variation that’s especially popular in the South.
For an interesting look at the history of tea in America, try one of my favorite works of tea history, Victor Mair and Erling Hoh’s The True History of Tea, which I reviewed here. Of course, tea was common in the American colonies long before the Boston Tea Party, going back as far as the seventeenth century, when the Dutch brought it with them. Even as of 1768, five years before the Tea Party, colonists drank an estimated two million pounds of tea. All of which and more is covered in this interesting article on tea drinking in colonial days.
To this day there is a perception among the British (perhaps not totally unfounded) that we Americans are all but useless when it comes to preparing a proper cup of tea. Which is nothing new. Consider that in 1886, when Edward Money wrote a travel volume called The Truth About America, he devoted a small section to the dire state of tea here.
In Chapter VI, Money states that tea drunk in America was “dreadful stuff” and included the text of Tea in America, a letter he wrote to “one of the papers devoted to tea matters in Calcutta.” In it he bemoaned the lack of Indian tea in America and pulled no punches in deriding the quality of the tea that was consumed here. That Money should be so interested in Indian tea was no coincidence, given that his involvement in that industry led him to write a book called The Cultivation and Manufacture of Tea, which focused on tea production in India.
In his first article for Gourmet magazine, in 1955, not yet prominent American food writer Craig Claiborne took the history of tea as his topic. Though the article tends to ramble a bit and obviously focuses on more than just tea history in America, it’s an interesting historical curiosity in itself and is certainly worth a look.
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