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“Tea,” by Edward Bamber

I’ve lost track of how many old tea books I’ve written about by now. But it’s safe to say that, if you were so inclined, you could spend quite a bit of time reading these volumes, all of which I’ve accessed online for free. I was starting to think I was exhausting the supply of said tomes when I ran across an 1868 book by Edward Fisher Bamber. Who doesn’t get points for creativity when it came to naming his book – it’s simply called Tea.

But even though there wasn’t much thought put into the name and though it’s not a very long book, it’s always interesting to look at tea from the perspective of someone who lived a century and a half ago. Given that he seemed to write mostly on topics related to mechanics and engineering, it’s not completely clear what led Bamber to write about tea. But he suggests in the Preface that perhaps the “general” reader “may care to know more about the Tea he drinks than the price of it.”

It’s hard to find much biographical data about Bamber, but it appears that he was British and the book is written from the perspective of a British subject. He claims that at the time he and his countrymen consumed more than twice as much tea as the rest of the world. As he notes, “there is probably not a house in the United Kingdom in which Tea is not infused.”

He goes on to present a brief history of tea, noting that it made its way into Europe in 1610, into Holland, and then into Britain just over a half century later. Green tea supposedly came around in 1715, says Bamber, and by this time larger quantities of tea were being imported and the specter of adulteration was beginning to rear its ugly head more frequently.

Bamber proceeds to give a rather detailed breakdown of tea prices and tax rates and the like, which the casual reader might want to skim (or skip) over. Next up is a fairly in-depth – but more readable – chapter on tea cultivation and another on manufacture. He closes with a few brief travelogue type pieces about tea estates in India and that’s the extent of it. Take a look at it here.

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

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