5 Surprising Things About Tea

Tea “coins”? Were those mini-discs really a way of packaging tea for easy use when trading? (Yahoo! images)
Tea “coins”? Were those mini-discs really a way of packaging tea for easy use when trading? (Yahoo! images)

Think you know about tea? Here are a few things that may surprise you.

1 The Dutch first brought tea to North America

We hear about the Boston Tea Party and think that it was the British who first brought tea to North America. However, the Dutch, who introduced tea to their country and then to other European countries, brought tea with them to their “New World” settlements, including one that was originally called New Amsterdam (renamed by the British to New York).

2 Lapsang Souchong came about thanks to soldiers

As the story goes, tea farmers in the Xingcu village had harvested leaves and were in the middle of processing them in their “tea factory” (not quite what we would call a factory — no big machinery) when the Emperor’s soldiers came through their village on the way to battle. They needed a place to camp for awhile and took over the building where the tea leaves were sitting. After they left, the tea farmers rushed in to try to save their tea crop from total destruction. They needed to finish the drying process more quickly than usual and so lit wood fires using pine logs and “smoked” the tea leaves. The tea went to market and became a big hit!

3 Tea was a form of currency at one time

In Siberia, Mongolia, Tibet, China, and nearby areas, bricks of tea were used as a means of exchange, making them in effect a form of currency. They were more practical than metal coins since they could be consumed if needed. This practice continued up to World War II. One drawback was a condition called flourosis (where fluorine in the tea bricks got into the body and attacked bones and teeth). (About the same time, salt was used for currency in Africa.)

4 Tea leaf reading is a lasting art

In Asia, readers of tea leaves are just as respected as astrologers. Reading tea leaves (or in some places coffee grounds) has traditionally been practiced in many countries by the women in the family, most often at gatherings of family and friends. The shapes of the tea leaf pieces left in the bottom of the tea cups (dating way back before teabags and strainers were in vogue) would draw the imaginations of tea drinkers. They could see images in those leaf configurations and wondered if they had meaning. Things developed from there. Gypsies brought tea leaf reading to Europe but with such flamboyancy that the art achieved a reputation as more entertainment. Modern readers have brought a more serious air back to the art.

5 Tea beat out gin as a favorite drink in Britain

No, not in these modern times. It was a few centuries ago. In the mid 1700s when tea drinking was becoming more affordable, tea replaced gin in Great Britain as the drink of choice, thus becoming the nation’s favorite beverage.

Were you surprised? Small wonder. Tea is a varied and surprising beverage. Enjoy!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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4 thoughts on “5 Surprising Things About Tea

  1. Pingback: The Best of the English Tea Store Tea Blog in 2013 | Tea Blog

  2. Pingback: 5 More Surprising Things About Tea | Tea Blog

  3. I am not sure if this will ever make it to trivia night, but Peter Stuyvesant was the actual person who first brought tea to America to the colonists in New Amsterdam. I’ve also read that the Dutch were the first people to put milk in their tea.

    1. A.C. Cargill

      Thanks for adding in the details (my space is limited, so my surprising thing #1 had to be brief). Not sure about the milk in the tea first being done by the Dutch. I know that as teacups got more delicate, milk was added to prevent cracking. Some say that was the first instance of milk being used in tea but definitive proof is elusive on this point. Thanks for reading! 🙂

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