1950s Archive

Steeped in History

continued (page 2 of 4)

Tea is a happy combination of caffeine, which is a stimulant, tannin, which provides tea with its color, pungency and strength, and oil, which is of the essence for aroma and flavor. For the sake of the record, the average cup of coffee, made according to the rule of forty cups of brew per pound, has about twice as much caffeine as a cup of tea, or one and one-half grains. As to tannin, while it is an excellent agent for tanning hides, it does not tan the lining of the stomach as has been suggested by a small-purposed clique of coffee lovers. Those who drink their tea straight may be cheered to learn that the liquid combines with the protein in the stomach; for those who take their tea with milk or cream, let it be known that tannin attaches itself to the casein which is contained in both milk and cream. Thus in either case all evil effects on the stomach are circumvented.

Tea is termed black tea or green tea depending on the methods of processing employed after it has been plucked. There are two grades of tea in the black tea family—leaf grades, which include orange pekoe (the Tea Council says it’s pronounced peck-o, not peek-o), pekoe, and pekoe souchong; and broken grades, subdivided into broken orange pekoe, broken pekoe, broken pekoe souchong, fannings, and dust. Such grading indicates leaf size and appearance and is not a guide to quality; witness the fact that the British prefer the stronger brew produced by the broken grades, while Americans find the leaf grades are pretty much to their taste. The green tea family is graded young hyson, hysons No. 1 and 2, gunpowder, twankey, fannings and dust.

Though the English seem somehow to be inexorably linked with the idea of tea, it’s the Dutch who seem to have played the major role in its introduction to the western world. It was the Dutch who first brought tea to Europe in 1610 and who introduced it forty years later into America at New Amsterdam (later New York).

We can give credit to an Englishman—Richard Blechynden—for introducing us to iced tea, which is a novelty in itself because even today iced tea in England is practically unheard of.

Blechynden was sent to this country in 1904 to promote the sale of India and Ceylon black teas at an international exhibition held in St. Louis during that year. He was evidently something of a pioneer huckster for he brought with him a troop of native Singhalese dressed in multicolored blouses and trousers for the purpose of serving hot tea in a pavilion built in “authentic Moslem style.” It was midsummer and any old-timer can tell you what midsummer in St. Louis used to be like.

It was as hot as hell and people attending the fair stayed away from Blechynden’s establishment in droves. Well, he did the Barnum-like thing of pouring the tea over ice—a revolutionary departure from the practice of that decade. Iced tea, they asked? Never heard of it. But pretty soon they were drinking it by the gallon.

Now we’re informed that more than two-thirds of the nation drinks more than six billion glasses of iced tea during a moderately warm summer.

Like iced tea, the tea bag also originated in America, and like iced tea, has its greatest popularity here. It was invented, or rather first employed, in 1908 by Thomas Sullivan, operator of a small wholesale tea and coffee shop located in the heart of New York’s spice district. Wholesaler Sullivan, reckoning to save money by distributing tea samples in cloth bags rather than the small metal cans which were generally used at this time, ordered several hundred hand-sewn bags made of China silk, filled them and sent them to his clients. Shortly orders were pouring in—not for the tea he was promoting but for the samples.

When it comes to tea, coffee, whiskey, and cigarettes, we’re a great nation of blenders. Blending teas helps manufacturers maintain a constant quality throughout any year, because the quality of leaves varies from bush to bush, season to season, and even week to week. The latter fact is the why and wherefore of professional tea tasters who reportedly are able to identify, without peekin’, no less than fifteen hundred teas.

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