A Mistress and her Servant. – Dialogues on Trade in Tea and Sugar, Etc.

Green Tea (stock image)
Green Tea (stock image)

You could probably make a vocation out of studying those many and varied old texts about tea that are now available for free, in digital editions, if you were so inclined. Which would be great work if you could get it and I’ve written about quite a few of them at this site. Some are a bit dry and academic, some are rather more entertaining and a few veer toward the offbeat end of the spectrum.

Such as an 1870 book by one Alexander Teetgen, titled A Mistress and her Servant. – Dialogues on Trade in Tea and Sugar, Etc. Though to call it a book would be something of a stretch, given that it only weighs in at about 21 pages. There’s not much information that I was able to locate about the author, but you can also access a book of his poetry online, if you’re interested, as well as his critique of Beethoven’s symphonies and a few other volumes.

Things kick off with the duo named in the title who are in the “Parlour,” where they are “preparing several Articles for the Dyer.” The conversation soon turns, as it so often must have done in such situations, to a rather in-depth conversation about various aspects of the tea trade. Among the topics discussed – with numerous passages highlighted in all capitals for emphasis – is the “spurious” quality of much of the tea on the market at the time and the responsibilities of a “proper” tea dealer.

And so it goes, with each of the participants alternating sessions in which they hold forth at great length on some aspect or another of tea commerce. If it all sounds a bit forced and unnatural, that’s because it is. Unless you consider it perfectly natural that a cultured English lady and her servant should be trading such passages as the following, “it is a great mistake to suppose that any one can rush into the tea trade at a moment’s notice and conduct it properly. The article requires considerable experience and attention. So much so, that he believes that the best brokers in the trade charge as much as…”

Just to shake things up a bit, about half way into the proceedings, the author introduces the appropriately named Mr. Love-a-cup, who is involved in the tea trade in some way and who has dropped by for a visit. The servant drops out of the conversation for the most part at this point. The topic strays a bit into such subjects as women’s suffrage and others, before circling around to the promised discourse on the sugar trade that closes this peculiar work.

It’s a curious volume indeed and one can’t help wonder why the author chose such an odd means of delivery to get his message across. But if you’d like to experience it for yourself take a look at a free digital copy, here.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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