Tea - The World's Social Drink
( Originally Published 1917 )
The symbol of hospitality. Tea is undoubtedly the most interesting of all our table drinks. Certainly it is more closely connected with social life than any other beverage we use. A cup of tea is the symbol of hospitality in the British Empire, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States. In England and America, at least, tea has lent its name to both a family meal and adfbrmal social gathering. It is so securely grafted into the speech of the tea-drinking countries that children understand the social significance of tea serving before they are allowed to become familiar with the taste of tea itself. It is safe to say that, in any of the countries named, there are few little girls old, enough to play by themselves with whom a make-believe "tea party" is not a favorite amusement.
While tea is distinctly the beverage of fashion, and may be said to typify the highest refinement of social life as it centers about the table, it also distills the "fragrance of hospitality" in cottage and in cabin. To brew a cup of tea for 'a caller is the nearest approach to a social function that the mistress of many a thatched cottage ever makes. There is scarcely a family in any English-speaking country, in Russia, or in any oriental land so poor that it cannot offer a "sup" of tea for the refreshment of the honored guest.
An inexpensive drink. Perhaps one reason for its popularity lies in the fact that tea is so inexpensive.An American expert who has an almost world-wide reputation as an authority on tea declares that it is "the most inexpensive, the most sanitary, and, in the United States, the purest beverage to be had." Many people would say that it is also the most delicious. But that is a matter of individual taste.
This expert declares that from 250 to 300 cups of tea, of the proper strength to obtain the best "bouquet" or flavor, can be made from a pound of any tea of fair quality. Most of the wellknown teas brew an average of 276 cups. In the United States, he estimates, the average retail price for tea is sixty cents a pound. Under these conditions the cost of a cup of tea would be a little more than a fifth of a cent.
His statement that tea is the most sanitary of table drinks is based on the fact that no tea reaches the lips of the consumer until it has been thoroughly sterilized. It is first sterilized when steamed to prevent fermentation, again when fired in the. drying process, and finally when boiling water is poured upon it to prepare it for serving.
Tea a good traveler. There is scarcely another thing served at our tables that can be more safely and conveniently shipped long distances than tea, for tea is a good traveler. When drinking a cup of black tea, did you ever ask yourself how far it had journeyed to meet your demand for a delicate, fragrant table drink? Let us suppose you live in about the center of our country, say in Omaha, Nebraska. If the tea served you is a black or mixed tea, it was undoubtedly taken first to England, where the greatest tea-importing houses are located. If this is true then it would go by way of Colombo, Ceylon, to Aden, Arabia; to Plymouth, England; to New York and thence to Omaha by rail, traveling about 10,900 miles. If the tea came by way of San Francisco it would leave Colombo, Ceylon, for Hong Kong, China; from Hong Kong it would journey to San Francisco and from there to Omaha by rail, a distance of about 11,100 miles. So, you see, tea from the port of Ceylon might be shipped into Omaha, either from the east or from the west, the difference between the two shipping routes being only. about 200 miles.
We must bear in mind that foods 'do not travel "as the crow flies," but must take the routes selected by the navigators and the importers. Unlike the two routes to Omaha, sometimes the difference in the length of the journeys may be thousands instead of hundreds of miles.
Chinese tea traditions. Now let us consider tea in the light of its traditions, its history, and its sources of supply. The use of tea has been handed down to us from ages unknown.As in the case of coffee, there are various stories concerning its discovery. Among Chinese traditions is one telling how, in ancient times, tea was first steeped by Buddhist priests to alter the unpleasant taste of the brackish water they were obliged to drink.
Another tells how,almost three thousand years before Christ, Chin-Nung, a Chinese scholar and philosopher, learned the value of tea. Once, when putting a branch of the tea shrub on his fire he knocked some of the leaves into a pot of boiling water and accidentally "brewed" the first cup of tea. He found the drink so pleasing that he formed the habit of using it. He confided his discovery to his friends and their experiments with the leaf were so successful that its use very soon became common throughout the empire.
Spreading the use of tea. While some people claim that tea was first raised for commercial purposes in India or Japan, it is generally conceded that the tea industry began in China and was later established in other countries.
The Dutch East India Company introduced tea into the Netherlands early in the seventeenth century. It reached England as early as 1657 and was shipped by the English to the American colonies in 1680. At that time it was selling at five dollars a pound and upwards, according to the quality.
At first tea was not favorably received: Its use was condemned by writers, educators, and clergy-men as a heathenish and immoral practice. In England especially the drinking of tea was bitterly attacked. In 1678, Mr. Henry Sevile, in writing to his uncle, names certain friends as among those "who call for tea, instead of pipes and bottles after. dinner a base, unworthy Indian practice which I must'ever admire your most Christian family for not admitting." And he concludes, "the truth is, all nations are growing so wicked as to have some of these filthy customs." Members of the medical profession classed tea as a drug and placed it on a par with opium and morphine. Much of this censure no doubt arose because royalty frowned upon the beverage. However, there were men of distinction who defended the oriental table drink. The great Dr. Johnson was one of these early champions of tea.
In spite of all disapproval the use of tea grew with remarkable rapidity and seems never to have lost any ground once gained. The United States alone now uses about 100,000,000 pounds of tea a year. Of this our merchants import about 45 per cent from Japan, 25 per cent from China, and 15 per cent from England, which in turn imports it from Ceylon and British India.
Tea gardens and tea drinkers. Tea is produced in India, China, Ceylon, Japan, Taiwan (Formosa, government reports we learn that the world consumes more than 800,000,000 pounds of tea a year. This does not include the large amount used locally in the producing countries, figures for which cannot be secured. Of this 800,000,000 pounds more than 291,000,000 pounds are produced in India; over 200,000,000 pounds in Ceylon; about 200,000,000 pounds in China; 80,000,000 pounds in Japan and Taiwan; and 60,000,000 pounds in Java. The one tea garden of the United States, at Summerville, South Carolina, yields about 15,000 pounds a year.
Great Britain consumes more tea than any other country, using more than 300,000,000 pounds a year. Individually the British are the greatest tea drinkers, the yearly average for each person' being about 7.5 pounds of tea. Russia also is a large consumer of tea but is exceeded by both the Netherlands and the British colonies — Australia and Canada.
All teas belong to two general classes, green and black. These two classes really include three kinds of tea: the unfermented, or green tea, which comes from China, Japan, and a small portion from India and Ceylon; the oolong, from China and Taiwan, which is partly fermented before being fired; and the fermented, or black teas, which come from China, Ceylon, India, and Java. Originally there were many times as much green tea sold as black, but of late years the black teas of Ceylon and India are replacing the Chinese and Japanese green teas in almost every country. In England scarcely any green tea is sold, but here where black teas are most popular, each year the sales are becoming larger. As a result the tea industry in China is steadily diminishing, while in India and Ceylon it is increasing rapidly.
A visit to a Japanese tea garden. A tea garden is one of the most interesting places that the traveler in the Orient can visit. Let us imagine that we are walking through a tea garden near Kyoto, Japan. In the distance high, tree clad hills stand out against the deep blue of the sky. A little closer extends a range of lower shaggy, bush covered hills, and nestling at the foot of these is a cluster of quaint, odd shaped little houses with roofs of tile. These are the factories and dwelling houses belonging to the tea gardens. In the foreground are acres of waist high green bushes. Among these bushes are working scores of kimono-clad pickers. Each picker has a big light-weight basket. There are many children working among the tea shrubs, for the picking of tea, in Japan, as in all oriental countries, is the task of women and children. They are very deft in this work, the principal requirements of which are quickness of eye and nimbleness of fingers. The skilled hands of the pickers skim over the bushes, hovering for an instant above a new "flush"a bud and three or four tender leaves. With a single motion they pluck from it only the top two or three leaves.
It is almost impossible to realize how vital to the quality of tea is the selection of the time for picking. It requires an expert to decide when the leaves should be picked, and should his calculation prove wrong it would work serious injury to the, entire harvest. If they are not picked at the proper time, the choicest leaves may deteriorate in a night or two from the highest quality to an extremely inferior grade of tea.
The care with which these pickers work is surprising. The task of picking tea is an exacting one. The leaves must be nipped off cleanly, without bruising or breaking the stem or stalk. These Japanese pickers receive from ten to fifteen tents a day, according to their skill. To us this seems a very small wage, until we remember that ten cents will buy far more in the Orient than in America. The negro children who pick tea in the gardens at Summerville are paid about twenty-five cents a day.
The Emperor's garden. A special tea is grown under cover for the Emperor of Japan. The tea garden is screened to shut off the sunlight from the plants. This makes the leaves very silky and larger in average size than other leaves. Tea grown in such a manner would naturally be very expensive.
Difference between green and black tea. The same kind of tea leaf can be used for the manufacture of either green or black tea, the difference in the two teas lying merely in the process of curing. At present little black tea is produced in Japan, but experiments looking to its production there are now being carried on.
In producing green tea the leaf is sterilized by steam. This prevents oxidizing or fermentation of the leaf, which retains its green color, and when boiling water is poured over it the result is a green or greenish-yellow liquid. In manufacturing black tea the leaf is allowed to ferment, which changes its color from green to very dark brown. In the case of oolong, or semi-fermented tea, the fermentation is allowed to reach a certain desired point.
Curing green tea. In the tea garden near Kyoto, we should find the natives curing green tea. After it is picked, the first step in the manufacture of tea is the steaming. While in China large .quantities of tea are still sun-dried in shallow bamboo trays, in Japan more modern methods are employed for drying tea. There it is done almost wholly by hot air in neat drying houses especially designed for this purpose.
The next step is firing. In Japan, the. tea is placed in large shallow pans over charcoal furnaces, where it is kept in motion by constant stirring. In China the tea is put into large metal bowls, under which burn charcoal fires, and is kept in motion until properly fired.
As it is being fired, the tea is also curled either by machinery or by being rolled between the palms of the curlers' hands. All this is done by the grower, who ships the tea to a central market where the factory fires it again to arrest fermentation and to fix the green color. Then the tea is ready for export. If the leaves are not thoroughly dried they are inclined to ferment and turn black. In a long, shedlike room are great piles of cured tea leaves, which are screened through various sieves and in this way cleaned and sorted according to grades.
In China and Japan almost the entire work of picking, curing, and sorting tea is done by hand. In China much of the hand work in tea curing is unnecessary and in spite of the low wages paid the laborers could be done better and perhaps more cheaply by machinery. But in Ceylon and India although there, too, labor can be had for a few cents a day the British have installed machines for the greater part of this work. Consequently if we were to visit a large Ceylon tea garden we should find conditions quite different, at least as far as curing the leaf is concerned. Such a garden and its factories would probably be owned and operated by a large English corporation.
Learning tea culture secrets. For many years the.Chinese carefully guarded the secret of tea cultivation, hoping that by so doing they could retain the world's trade. They contended that it would not be possible to grow tea successfully in any other country. Finally some English horticulturists discovered wild tea shrubs in Assam, India. This convinced them that tea could be successfully grown there, and they began the study of tea culture. Then certain adventurous Englishmen went to China, braving many dangers, and finally succeeded in dispelling the mystery which the Chinese had woven about the culture of tea.
They learned that, while tea was a hardy plant that would grow in poor and sandy soil, its quality was greatly influenced by soil and weather conditions. They learned, too, that while it could be grown in a dry climate, when the rainfall came with reasonable regularity the plants put forth more new shoots and the leaves were richer in flavor and more elastic. They also learned that the soil had a great deal to do with the size and yield of the shrub and that the location of the plantation or garden counted for much. Further search showed that, in spite of general reports to the contrary, the Chinese did fertilize their gardens and fertilize them generously.
Establishing tea culture in India. History tells us that in the year 1832 the governor general of India appointed a committee to introduce the culture of tea into India. This was one of the most important events in the history of modern India. An offncial was sent to China to procure seed, and skilled Chinese workmen to establish plantations in the Himalayan regions. Then the East India Company began many experiments in tea culture. In the year 1836 one pound of tea was sent from Assam to London, in the following year five pounds more were sent, and in 1839 ninety five boxes. In January, 1840, the Assam Company was formed and from that time on the cultivation of tea in India was a private industry.
A failure and a success. After 1840 both the English and Dutch attempted to introduce tea into Ceylon. They were unsuccessful until the year 1876, when the failure of the coffee crop compelled the planters to turn their attention to tea. Since that time the tea industry has made wonderful strides in Ceylon. In fact, Ceylon tea has done quite as much to make that island famous as have its spices and coffee.
Experiments in other lands. Our own government also has experimented with the cultivation of tea, and in 1880 sent to India and secured a planter of fourteen years' experience to take charge of its experimental work. More recently the Department of Agriculture has co-operated with Dr. Charles U. Shepard, a private citizen who has a small tea garden near Summerville. This garden contains about sixty acres. Dr. Shepard started his Pinehurst Tea Garden or plantation in 1890 and has proved that tea can be grown successfully in our own 'Southern States. The present yield is about 15,000 pounds a year. It seems unlikely that much progress will be made in tea growing on a commercial scale here because of the relatively high cost of labor.
Successful experiments in tea culture have also been carried on in Brazil, in Australia, and in Natal, South Africa.
Two practices in tea picking. Owing to distinct climatic differences, the calendar of tea picking in Ceylon differs from that in China and Japan. Tea is picked only three times a year in China and Japan, while in India, Ceylon, and Java it is picked every seven to ten days, throughout the season. Under this practice the bushes are gone over about twenty times as against three times in Japan and China. The bushes in Ceylon have to be pruned back and rested about every fourth year as an equivalent of the winter rest which the bushes get in northern tea-growing countries.
A Ceylon tea garden. In Ceylon the pickers are dark-skinned Tamil coolies brought over from India. They are usually clad in two pieces of bright cloth, one for the waist and the other for the skirt. With every crew of pickers one will see a partially clothed cangany, or taskmaster, who invariably carries a gay-colored parasol.
Now suppose we visit a Ceylon garden and see how it differs from the Japanese garden. At first glance we notice that the garden is situated on three sandy hills, between which the river winds and twists. At the extreme south is a stone power plant perched on the bank of the river. This plant furnishes electricity to the modern buildings in the garden. Beyond we see the bright dresses of the pickers as they move slowly to and fro among the green shrubs of the garden, while a vivid sunshade bobbing up here and there discloses the presence of the ever-watchful cangany.
If you were walking through this garden, quite likely you would see many of the slender, dark- skinned, black-haired Tamil women pickers tightly wrapped in enormous lengths of cotton cloth of various shades and patterns. No doubt they would be highly decked out with brass jewelry. By means of a cord passed over the head they carry on their backs large cane baskets. This manner of carrying the basket permits the free use of both hands for picking. Each basket holds fourteen pounds of tea, and a coolie is expected to pick three baskets of tea leaves a day.
Curing black tea. The first step in the manufacture of black tea is the withering. This is done in a large, light, airy, clean room, down the center of which extend two rows of adjustable frames or racks. In these racks are innumerable shelves with jute-Hessian or wire bottoms, upon which have been lightly scattered freshly picked tea leaves from thousands of baskets. Here the leaves are left to wither for eighteen to twenty hours, in order .to allow the sap and other moisture to evaporate. Then begins the second process of manufacture "rolling" or curling.
One can almost step from the door of the withering house to that of the rolling house. This house contains five rollers; beside each roller, on a small square box, stands a native clad only in a white cloth wrapped about his loins. The leaves are put through the rotary rollers to give them a good twist. Here may be seen a large motor driving many modern machines. The rolling room is whitewashed throughout and, like all the other buildings, lighted by electricity.
Fermenting is the third process in the production of black tea. The rolled leaves are spread on the floor and covered with wet cloths. Here they are allowed to remain until they turn a bright coppery color.
The next step is the firing. In the firing room may be seen a number of odd oven-shaped machines. Before each machine stands a half-naked attendant, and hurrying from machine to machine is a white man, dressed like a chef. A number of barefoot natives, each carrying a wire tray filled with tea leaves, glide noiselessly across the stone floor. The trays are quickly slipped into the machines, or furnace, and the heavy door closed. A current of hot air is passed through the machines to dry the tea.
When the tea is removed it is brittle and black. It is now ready for the final process of sifting. There are a number of different kinds of sifters, all driven by electric power. The largest is something like our old-style grain separators, and consists of a half dozen vibrating trays, each fitted with a screen having a different mesh. The different grades of tea run from the separator through various short spouts into boxes which are removed by workmen as fast as they are filled. Here are sorted all the commercial grades of tea known as "broken orange pekoe," "orange pekoe," "pekoe," "pekoe souchong," "souchong," "fannings," and "dust."
"Russian tea.", We hear much of Russian tea; but there is only one real Russian tea and that comes from the Imperial Domains estates at Chakva, near Batum. The original. plants on these estates were brought from China. Although Russia is a large consumer of tea, only a very small portion of its supply is raised at home. The term "Russian tea," as commonly used, refers to a black tea served as the Russians serve it, and not to tea grown in Russia.
How the government protects the consumer. Considerable adulteration is practiced in the tea industry of the Orient. The cheap grades of tea used in China and also in Europe are colored with Prussian blue, gypsum, soapstone, turmeric, and other coloring matter. Tea exporters have even resorted to the use of paraffin to preserve the tea. The United States government does not allow such tea to enter this country for sale. As early as 1883, the United States passed a law governing the sale of tea and in 1897 this law was perfected.
The quality and grades of teas that may be imported into this country are determined by a board of seven tea experts. They select certain teas to be used as standards with which all imported teas must be compared. As the supervising tea expert puts it: "The government officially furnishes the `yardstick' with which the quality and fitness for consumption of all teas imported into the United States are measured."
These standards, or "measuring sticks," consist of half-pound packages of tea conforming exactly to the requirements of the law. They are sent to every United States tea examiner and are also distributed to American tea importers. The importers send them to their buyers in the Far East, so that they may purchase only the teas that conform to the official standards. In this way the public is carefully protected against inferior teas.
No artificially colored tea is allowed to come into this country for sale. A simple and effective test, known as the Read test, is used to determine whether or not artificial coloring has been added to tea. This test was discovered by a woman, Dr. Alberta Read. The specification for this test says that a certain quantity of the dust of the tea under examination shall be sifted upon a semi-glazed white paper and crushed with a steel spatula. The dust shall then be brushed off and the paper examined with a magnifying glass' for streaks of coloring matter. If, in the opinion of the examiner, the tea under test contains coloring matter, the test paper, as well as a sample of the tea itself, is sent to a chemist for analysis. Artificially colored teas were freely imported into this country until our government established this board of tea experts. The Read test used with black paper will detect the "facings" or foreign matter used to improve the appearance such as talc, gypsum, barium, sulphate, and clay, which are sometimes used with green tea.
Tea is also tested for its flavor or "bouquet." One test for strength and flavor is known as the cup test. This test consists of drawing and brewing a quantity of tea equal in weight to a silver half dime, and comparing it with the same quantity of the standard or "measuring stick" tea, which it must equal as to bouquet, body, taste, and appearance of the leaf that has been infused.
If an imported tea falls short of the standard in a single respect, that is sufficient cause for its rejection. When a tea is condemned by an examiner it cannot be released from the bonded warehouse, where all teas must go on entering this country. If condemned tea is released it is in order that it may be immediately sent back home or destroyed. Our government takes these steps to prevent its sale in this country. Poor grades of tea are used chiefly in Asia and Europe. But not a pound can be sold in the United States. Every shipment of official standards. In other words, our country gets the cleanest and purest teas of any country in the world, because our laws, as enforced, will admit no others.
Inspection by the United States government has notably raised the standard of the teas imported into this country. More than this, it has had a wholesome effect in the Orient. When the big growers found that certain reforms in handling and preparing their teas were necessary in order to make their product meet official standards in the United States, naturally the improvement also affected teas going to other countries. It is gratifying to know that in much the same way the United States is raising the standards of wholesomeness and cleanliness of many other foods grown and prepared in foreign lands.
Brewing tea the government way. Among other things, the government has determined just the proper length of time to brew tea, and why. On an average, a three-minute infusion in boiling water has been found to produce the best results. This is because in that length of time most of the theine the desirable element which lies in the skin or outer part of the leaf, is extracted, and very little of the tannin—an undesirable element found in the inner tissue of the leaf is drawn out by the brew.
Teas cured and prepared where grown. Except that much mixing or blending is done in the great tea-exporting houses of England, all the curing and preparing of teas takes place in the countries where they are grown. Tea is delivered to the American consumer just as it is shipped from the tea gardens, except that it is repacked in convenient, sanitary, flavor-retaining tins and boxes. This brings the teas to the home in packages containing from a quarter of a pound to five pounds, and assures the housewife that she is receiving a product of uniform quality and blend.