“A Cup of Tea” – The Book (1884)

Black tea in the cup (ETS image)
Black tea in the cup (ETS image)

If you’re looking for old books about tea there are plenty of them just a click away, thanks to the ongoing efforts to digitize what seems like every piece of printed material ever published. I’ve written about many of these over the years and keep waiting for the supply to run dry, but it hasn’t yet.

The latest one I’d like to discuss is a volume with the rather concise title, A Cup of Tea: Containing a History of the Tea Plant from Its Discovery to the Present Time, Including Its Botanical Characteristics … and Embracing Mr. William Saunders’ Pamphlet on Tea-culture–a Probable American Industry. That’s actually the condensed version, by the way, and you get bonus points for saying it three times fast.

The book was published in 1884 and its co-writer, Joseph M. Walsh, also penned a few other books on tea. They are Tea, Its History and Mystery and Tea-blending as a Fine Art, and he also wrote a book on coffee. The book starts, as so many tea books do, with a history of tea, noting how it started in China and spread to other parts of Asia and elsewhere and discussing how it eventually made its way to Europe and the United States.

Next up is a chapter on tea’s botanical characteristics and another on cultivation and preparation. The chapter on Chemical, Medicinal and Dietical Properties discusses the theine in tea, which is another word for caffeine and not to be confused with theanine, a compound that was discovered later. As for its medicinal properties, the author is mostly bullish on these, unlike some commentators of yesteryear who were not always convinced that tea was such a good thing.

The rest of the book is given over to chapters on classification, adulteration and blending. Walsh, an American, close things with a chapter called Tea-Culture, A Probable American Industry. As the name suggests, the chapter focuses on the ins and outs of setting up a tea industry here in the United States. Which, alas, was not really something that came to pass. Tea was already being grown in the US at the time and still is even to this day, but has always been more of a curiosity than a significant industry.

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

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