“The Use and Abuse of Tea” (1877)

If you were a medical person in 1877 and happened to be reading Physician and Surgeon: A Professional Medical Journal, you would have run across an article called The Use and Abuse of Tea. It begins with the following statement, “A French observer has recently tabulated the evil results which in many cases follow the excessive use of what is now the favorite beverage of Teutonic and Slavonic nations.”

It notes that said observer has presented a “formidable” list of problems that can result from tea consumption but goes on to note that opinions on the matter were somewhat divided in the English medical community at the time. With some making light of the alleged evils of tea while others were going to the other extreme and likening it to alcoholism. The anonymous author goes on to further assert that as two of the most popular “nervine stimulants” of the day (which still holds true today, for that matter) the good to be had from drinking tea and coffee outweighed the downsides of occasional abuse.

A brief listing of benefits follows and if you’re looking to stretch your vocabulary you might be interested to know that tea is thought to be a “sudorific,” meaning that even when consumed in its hot form it is said to have a cooling effect.

On the downside the author does concede that overdoing it with tea can cause nervous and digestive problems and divides the “sufferers” from excessive tea drinking into three groups. There are the “pure brain-workers,” who supposedly find their ability to think impaired by too much tea. Then there are the “women of the better classes” whose consumption at afternoon tea and the rest of the day ends up impairing their appetite and causing problems. Last of all are the working classes who turn to tea in lieu of a “cheap and appetizing mid-day meal” and suffer ill effects as a result.

On the flip side, and this should come as good news to all of us who aren’t willing to do without our tea, no matter what anyone says. There is apparently a small group of people for whom tea seems to be a “positive poison.” Which works just fine for me.

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

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