If you’re ever in the mood for some truly offbeat reading, you could head on over to Project Gutenberg and take a look at a curious 1854 book by one Rev. I. Platts. It’s called The Book Of Curiosities: Containing Ten Thousand Wonders and Curiosities of Nature and Art – which is a somewhat abridged version of the full (and quite weighty) title. While the book might not quite touch on 10,000 wonders, it hits quite a few, including such oddities as the ant-lion, the lifespan of fleas, magical bottles and murdering statues.
Amidst all these curiosities I was surprised to find a short chapter on the relatively mundane (by comparison) topic of Chinese tea. The author starts out with a few of the basic facts about the tea plant and sequence of the various harvests in China. This was a time when China was still the world’s primary tea producer, with the tea industry just getting underway in India. As Platts notes, of China’s tea, “It is to be found all over China, but there are certain places where the tea is of a better quality than in others. Some people give the preference to the tea of Japan, but we have reason to doubt whether there is any real difference.”
After that there’s an all-too brief discussion of how tea is processed and then it’s on to a look at some different types of Chinese tea. There’s Bohea, for instance, which the author claims is called vou-y-tcha in Chinese. Once quite popular, the name Bohea is not much in use these days but Platts claims that it came from Fokien province, more commonly known as Fukien.
Things wind up with a discussion of some Chinese green teas, which were said to come from the province of Nankin. The author summarizes them thusly, “The first is known under the name of songlo tea, but oftener under that of green toukay; the second is called bing tea; and the third hayssuen tea, or hyson. There are also some other kinds, but the greater part of them are unknown, or of little importance to foreigners.” Platts also reveals the little-known “fact” that the French seek in their green tea “an odour similar to that of soap.”
From there it’s on to the next segment, a brief but interesting discussion on the Antiquity of Sugar. So don’t stop reading. More here.
See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.
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