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Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Tea

TEA.This important food auxiliary, now in daily use as a beverage by probably one-half of the population of the world, is prepared from the leaves of one or more plants belonging to the natural order Ternströmiaceæ. The order includes the well-known ornamental genus of shrubs Camellia, to which indeed the tea-plants are so closely allied that by many systematic writers they are included in the same genus. The tea-plants have been cultivated in China for at least a thousand years.

Botany.As is commonly the case with plants which have been long under cultivation, there is much doubt as to specific distinctions among the varieties of tea. Under the name of Thea sinensis, Linnæus originally described tea as a single species; but with fuller knowledge of the Chinese plants he established two species, Thea Bohea and Thea viridis, and it was assumed that the former was the source of black teas, while Thea viridis was held to yield the green varieties. In 1843, however, Mr Robert Fortune found that, although the two varieties of the plant exist in different parts of China, black and green tea are made indifferently from the leaves of the same plant. The tea-plant is cultivated in China as an evergreen shrub, which grows to a height of from 3 to 5 feet. The stem is bushy, with numerous and very leafy branches; the leaves are alternate, large elliptical, obtusely serrated, veined, and placed on short channelled foot-stalks. The calyx is small, smooth, and divided into five obtuse sepals. The flowers are white, axillary, and slightly fragrant, — often two or three together on separate pedicels.

The corolla has from five to nine petals, cohering at the base. The filaments are short, numerous, and inserted at the base of the corolla; the anthers are large and yellow, the style trifid, and the capsules three-celled and three-seeded.

The viridis varieties are hardier, and possess larger and brighter green leaves than belong to the Bohea variety. No strictly wild tea-plants have been discovered in China, but an indigenous tea-tree (Thea assamica) is found in Assam, which botanists now incline to regard as the parent species of all cultivated varieties. It differs in many respects from the Chinese plants. The indigenous Assam tea-plant is a tree attaining a height of from 1 5 to 20 feet, growing in the midst of dense moist jungle and in shady sheltered situations. Its leaves vary considerably in size, form, and venation, being usually smooth, thick, and leathery, lanceolate, ovate lanceolate, or oblong lanceolate. They are variously dotted with pellucid cells containing essential oil, and the number of such cells shown by the leaf is held to be an indication of the quality of tea it will yield. The leaf of the Chinese plant never exceeds 4 inches in length, while that of the Assam tree reaches 9 inches and upwards. The Chinese plant is hardy, and capable of thriving under many different conditions of climate and situation; while the indigenous plant is tender and difficult of cultivation, requiring for its success a close, hot, moist, and equable climate. The characteristic venation of the leaf of the Chinese tea-plant is delineated in fig. 2. In minute structure the leaf presents highly characteristic appearances.

Fig.2.—Tea-Leaf—full size. The under side of the young leaf is densely covered with fine one-celled thick-walled hairs, about 1 mm. in length and ·015 mm. in thickness. These hairs entirely disappear with increasing age. The structure of the epidermis of the under side of the leaf, with its contorted cells, is represented ( 160) in fig. 3. A further characteristic feature of the cellular structure of the tea-leaf is the abundance, especially in grown leaves, of large, branching, thick-walled, smooth cells (idioblasts), which, although they occur in other leaves, are not found in such as are likely to be confounded with or substituted for tea. The minute structure of the leaf in section is illustrated in fig. 4.

Range of growth.The cultivated varieties of tea, being comparatively hardy, possess an adaptability to climate excelled among food plants only by the wheat. The limits of actual tea- cultivation extend from 39° N. lat. in Japan, through the tropics, to Java, Australia, Natal, and Brazil in the southern hemisphere. The tea-plant will even live in the open air in the south of England, and withstand some amount of frost, when it receives sufficient summer heat to harden its wood. But comparatively few regions are suited for practical tea-growing.

Fig. 4.-Section through Tea-Lea. Climate and soil. A rich and exuberant growth of the plants is a first essential of successful tea cultivation. This is only obtainable in warm, moist, and comparatively equable climates, where rains are frequent and copious. The climate indeed which favours tropical profusion of jungle growth—still steaming heat—is that most favourable for the cultivation of tea, and such climate, unfortunately, is most prejudicial to the health of Europeans. It was formerly supposed that comparatively temperate latitudes and steep sloping ground afforded the most favourable situations for tea-planting, and much of the disaster which attended the early stages of the tea enterprise in India is traceable to this erroneous conception. Tea thrives best in light friable soils of good depth, through which water percolates freely, the plant being specially impatient of marshy situations and stagnant water Undulating well-watered tracts, where the rain escapes freely, yet without washing away the soil, are the most valuable for tea gardens. As a matter of fact, many of the Indian plantations are established on hill-sides, after the example of known districts in China, where hill slopes and odd corners are commonly occupied with tea-plants.

History.According to Chinese legend, the virtues of tea (cha, pronounced in the Amoy dialect , whence the English name) were discovered by the mythical emperor Chinnung, 2737 B.C., to whom all agricultural and medicinal knowledge is traced. It is doubtfully referred to in the book of ancient poems edited by Confucius, all of which are previous in date to 550 B.C. A tradition exists in China that a knowledge of tea travelled eastward to and in China, having been introduced 543 A.D. by Bodhidharma, an ascetic who came from India on a missionary expedition, but that legend is also mixed with mythical and supernatural details. But it is quite certain, from the historical narrative of Lo Yu, who lived in the Tang dynasty (618–906 A.D.), that tea was already used as a beverage in the 6th century, and that during the 8th century its use had become so common that a tax was levied on its consumption in the 14th year of Tih Tsung (793). The use of tea in China in the middle of the 9th century is known from Arab sources (Reinaud, Relation des Voyages, 1845, p. 40). From China a knowledge of tea was carried into Japan, and there the cultivation was established about the beginning of the 13th century. Seed was brought from China by the priest Miyoye, and planted first in the south island, Kiushiu, whence the cultivation spread northwards till it reached the high limit of 39° N. To the south tea cultivation also spread into Tong-king and Cochin China, but the product in these regions is of inferior quality. Till well into the 19th century it may be said that China and Japan were the only two tea-producing countries, and that the product reached the Western markets only through the narrowest channels and under most oppressive restrictions.

In the year 1826 the Dutch succeeded in establishing tea gardens in Java. At an early period the East India Company of Great Britain, as the principal trade intermediary between China and Europe, became deeply interested in the question of tea cultivation in their Eastern possessions. In 1788 Sir Joseph Banks, at the request of the directors, drew up a memoir on the cultivation of economic plants in Bengal, in which he gave special prominence to tea, pointing out the regions most favourable for its cultivation. About the year 1820 Mr David Scott, one of the Company’s servants, sent to Calcutta from the district of Kuch Behar and Rangpur—the very district indicated by Sir Joseph Banks as favourable for tea-growing—certain leaves, with a statement that they were said to belong to the wild tea-plant. The leaves were submitted to Dr Wallich, Government botanist at Calcutta, who pronounced them to belong to a species of Camellia, and no result followed on Mr Scott’s communication. These very leaves ultimately came into the herbarium of the Linnean Society of London, and have authoritatively been pronounced to belong to the indigenous Assam tea-plant. Dr Wallich’s attribution of this and other specimens subsequently sent in to the genus Camellia, although scientifically defensible, unfortunately diverted attention from the significance of the discovery. It was not till 1834 that, overcome by the insistance of Captain Francis Jenkins, who maintained and proved that, called by the name Camellia or not, the leaves belonged to a tea-plant, Dr Wallich admitted ‘‘the fact of the genuine tea-plant being a native of our territories in Upper Assam as incontrovertibly proved.” In the meantime a committee had been formed by Lord William Bentinck, the governor-general, for the introduction of tea culture into India, and an official had already been sent to the tea districts of China to procure seed and skilled Chinese workmen to conduct operations in the Himalayan regions. The discovery and reports of Captain Jenkins led to the investigation of the capacities of Assam as a tea-growing country by Lord William Bentinck’s committee. Evidence of the abundant existence of the indigenous tea-tree was obtained; and the directors of the East India Company resolved to institute an experimental establishment in Assam for cultivating and manufacturing tea, leaving the industry to be developed by private enterprise should its practicability be demonstrated. In 1836 there was sent to London 1 lb of tea made from indigenous leaves; in 1837 5 Ib of Assam tea was sent; in 1838 the quantity sent was twelve small boxes, and ninety-five boxes reached London in 1839. In January 1840 the Assam Company was formed, and thenceforward the cultivation of tea in India was carried on as a private commercial undertaking. The tea districts of India include, in the order of their priority, Assam, Dehra Dun, Kumaun, Darjiling, Cachar, Kangra, Hazaribagh, Chittagong, Tarai, and the Nilgiris (Madras).

Attempts were repeatedly made to introduce tea culture in Ceylon, under both Dutch and British authority. No permanent success was attained till about 1876, when the disastrous effects of the coffee-leaf disease induced planters to give serious attention to tea. Since that period the tea industry has developed in Ceylon with marvellous rapidity, and it has every prospect of taking the first rank among Singalese productions. Tea-planting has also been successfully established in Natal. But beyond the regions above enumerated the industry has never taken root. It has been tried in the West Indies, the Southern States of America, Brazil, Australia, and the south of Europe; but cheap labour is a sine qua non of success. Tea can be picked in China and the British East Indies for two or three pence a day of wages, and it is on such exceedingly moderate outlay that the margin of profit depends. Tea industry in China.

Tea is more or less cultivated for local consumption in all provinces of China except the extreme north, but the regions from which it is exported are embraced within the provinces in the south-east—Kwang-tung, Fuh-keen, Keang-se, Che-keang, Keang-su, and Gan-hwuy. Black-tea manufacture belongs to the more southerly portion of these regions, the green-tea country lying to the north. The methods employed in cultivating the plants and in making tea in China differ widely in various districts, and the teas retained for native use—especially the high-class fancy teas which are never seen abroad, and would probably not bear exportation—undergo special manipulation. The teas exported are of three principal classes—black tea, green tea, and brick tea. Cultivation.In cultivation, the young plants are not ready for picking till they are three years old, by which time they should be well established, throwing out young shoots or “flushes” with vigour and profusion. It is these tender shoots, with leaf-buds and expanding leaves, which alone are gathered for tea manufacture, and the younger the leaf-bud the better is the quality of the tea. According to Chinese statements there are four gatherings of leaves in the year. The first is made early in April, when the young leaf-buds are just unfolding, and these, covered below with their fine silky hairs, are taken for making pekoe or young hyson. The second gathering takes place about the beginning of May, another in July, and the fourth in August and September. On each succeeding occasion the product is less fragrant and valuable, and the final gathering is said to consist of large leaves of little value. These statements do not, however, accord with Indian experience.

The following brief outline of the Chinese tea-making processes is given by Mr Ball (Cultivation and Manufacture of Tea):—

Black tea.“The leaves of black tea are exposed to the sun and air on circular trays and treated as hay, during which an incipient saccharine fermentation is supposed to take place in conjunction with a volatile oil. Various modifications of flavour are thus produced by the management of this fermentation; a loss of tannin takes place by the conversion of part of the tannic acid into sugar. During this change the leaves become flaccid, and slightly tinged or spotted with red or brown colouring matter, and give out a peculiar odour, approximating to, or, as some think, identical with, the odour of tea. A certain change in this odour is carefully watched by the workmen, this being an indication that the roasting must not be delayed. It is not necessary to wait till the leaves are spotted with red. They are then roasted in an iron vessel, and afterwards rolled with the hands, to express their juices. The roasting and rolling are repeated so long as any juices can be expressed from the leaves in the act of rolling. Finally, they are dried in sieves placed over a charcoal fire in drying tubes, during which the leaves are occasionally taken from the fire, and turned until completely dried. It is in this last stage of the process that the leaves turn black, though this change of colour is mainly due to the process of manipulation previously to roasting, and not to the action of heat.”

Green tea.“The leaves of green tea are roasted also in an iron vessel, but as soon as gathered, without any previous manipulation, all heating or fermentation of the leaves being studiously avoided; they are then rolled as black tea, and finally dried in the same vessel in which they have been roasted, by constantly stirring and moving them about. They are also fanned to hasten evaporation, and the drying and formation of the peculiar characteristic colour of this tea, which it gradually acquires in this process, and which resembles the bloom on some fruits.”

The colour of genuine green tea is entirely due to the rapid drying of the fresh leaves, which prevents the chlorophyll from undergoing any alteration. The green tea sent out of China is almost invariably faced or glazed with artificial colouring matter, principally with a powdered mixture of gypsum and Prussian blue.

Commercial varieties.The names distinguishing commercial qualities of tea are almost entirely of Chinese origin. In general they indicate a gradation of qualities from the fine and delicate product of the young leaf-bud up to the hard and woody expanded and partly-grown leaf. The following list represents the ordinary series of qualities, beginning with the finest:—

Black Tea.— Flowery pekoe, orange pekoe, pekoe, pekoe souchong, souchong, congou, bohea.

Green Tea.—Gunpowder, imperial, hyson, young hyson, hyson skin, caper.

Of these names, pekoe is derived from pak-ho (white hairs), the pekoes showing the fine downy tips of the young buds; souchong is from siaou-chung. little plant or sort ; congou (kung-fu), labour; bohea (wu-i) the mountains in Fuh-keen, the centre of the black-tea country; and hyson (yü-tsien) before the rains, or tu-chun, flourishing spring. Many other names occur in the trade denoting teas of special qualities or districts, such as oolong (black dragon) and twankay, from the district of that name in the province of Keang-su. Scented teas also form a special class of Chinese produce. In scenting the finished tea, either black or green is intimately inter-mixed with odoriferous flowers and left in a heap till the tea is fully impregnated with the odour, when the two substances are separated by sifting, and the tea so scented is immediately packed and excluded from the air.

Brick tea.Brick tea is the special form in which tea is prepared for use throughout the vast tracts of Central Asia. It is made principally from broken leaves, stalks, and fragments of large leaves, compressed into blocks of various sizes. The bricks are of various degrees of compression, some being lightly squeezed into a loose mass and sewed up in cowhide bags, while others form compact resonant cakes, in which all trace of the original leaf structure is lost, with gilt characters impressed in their surface. Brick tea is much in demand over an area greater than the whole of Europe, and by many tribes it is stewed with milk, salt, and butter or other fat and eaten as a vegetable. The Russian factors established in Hoo-pih prepare two sizes of brick tea, which they send off in great quantities through the Kalgan Gate of the Great Wall.

Tea industry in India.Under European supervision the cultivation and especially the manufacture of tea have in India undergone remarkable improvements. Indeed, the traditional and empirical teaching and processes of China proved a most serious stumblingblock to the progress of the tea industry under Western auspices. The tea-plants now cultivated in India are of three principal classes—the indigenous Assam, the Chinese, and a hybrid between the two. By much crossing and intermixture the gradations from one extreme to the other are almost imperceptible. The best qualities of black teas are made from indigenous and high-class hybrid plants, but these are comparatively tender and require a close humid climate. The hardiness of the Chinese plants is their most important character, for, favourably situated, the Assam plant gives a larger yield of delicate young leaf during the season than any other.

Picking.In favourable circumstances the tea-plant “flushes” or sends forth a fresh crop of tender young shoots from twenty to twenty-five times in the course of its growing and picking season of about nine months. The average annual yield per plant is very variable, but may be stated at about one-fifth of a Ib of finished tea; and, as each acre of a garden holds 1500 to 1600 mature plants, the yield per acre may be from 300 to 350 lb per annum. The diagram (fig. 5) from Col. Money's valuable practical treatise on the cultivation and Manufacture of Tea illustrates the method in which a flush or shoot is picked, and the portions which go to make special classes of tea. The lines in the diagram show the points at which the shoot may be picked, and it is important that the lowest leaf taken should be so nipped off as to leave the bud in its axil uninjured on the branch, as from it the next flush will then develop. The three leaves at the growing point (a, b, c) yield pekoe, and the whole shoot down to and including f gives pekoe souchong. In the order of their age, the individual leaves manufacture into a flowery pekoe, b orange pekoe, c pekoe, d pekoe souchong, e souchong, and f congou. Were the flush further developed another leaf might be taken, which would be classed as bohea, but that is not a quality recognized by Indian growers.

Fig. 6. — Mode of Picking Tea. It is not, however, the practice to pick or treat leaves separately, the whole flush being manipulated together, and the tea is only separated into qualities by sifting after the manufacturing processes have been completed.

The manufacture of black tea is found to be an essentially simple matter. Many of the processes employed by the Chinese are quite superfluous, and several of the manual operations which bulk largely in the Chinese manufacture, it is found, can with advantage be supplanted by mechanical agency. The whole object of the black-tea manufacturer is to ferment, roll, and dry the leaf, and for that purpose the leaves undergo—(1) withering, (2) rolling, (3) fermenting, and (4) firing or dholing. Between the fermenting and the firing operations it is desirable to expose the leaves to the direct sunlight for an hour or thereby. This cannot always be done, as it is impossible to keep the fermented leaves after they have attained their proper state; nevertheless the best result is always attained in bright weather, when it is possible to expose the fermented leaves to the sun.

The fresh leaves from the garden, as they are brought in to the factory, are withered by being spread evenly over square wicker-work trays—leaf challanies—thickly or thinly as the weather is hot or cool. Thus they are left exposed to the air till they become quite soft and flaccid, folding together when pressed in the hand into a clammy mass without crackling or rebound. In cloudy or rainy weather it becomes necessary to wither by machine, acting on the leaves with artificially dried and heated air. Withering is a preliminary to rolling, in which the flaccid and velvety leaves are kneaded, twisted, and rolled back and forward over a table till the whole comes into a mashy condition by the exudation of juice. While in Chinese tea-making that juice is squeezed out of the leaves, in India it is most carefully lapped up and absorbed in the spongy mass. In hand-rolling as much as can be worked between two hands is operated on, and passed from man to man along the table till fully worked, when it is made up into a compressed ball and so put aside for fermenting. This process is the distinguishing feature of black-tea making, and on its sufficient accomplishment depends much of the character and quality of the tea made. The progress of the fermentation must he carefully watched, and at the point when by the colour it is known to be sufficiently advanced the tea is in favourable weather sunned by exposure, thinly spread out to the sunlight for about an hour. It is immediately thereafter fired, either by the fumes of burning charcoal or by a current of dried and heated air from one of the numerous machines now in use. With this single firing the process is completed, and the tea so finished is sifted by machinery into commercial qualities according to the size of the leaf.

For the entire range of manufacturing operations numerous forms of machinery and mechanical devices have been adapted and introduced in Indian gardens, so that, apart from picking the leaves, tea-making has become practically a factory industry.

Green tea.The manufacture of green tea is comparatively little prosecuted in India. In Europe, the demand has greatly fallen away, and, though the consumption is considerable in the United States, the supply is principally drawn from Japan, where its preparation is extensively practised. The manufacture as carried on in the North-Western Provinces resolves itself into a rapid piling and drying of the leaf. Without permitting the leaves to wither after gathering, they are, if free from moisture, at once by exposure to a brisk heat sweated and softened for rolling. They are then without delay rolled as in black-tea manufacture, next spread out in the sun till they take a blackish tinge, then again rolled, and this rolling and exposure may be repeated yet a third time. When the rolling is completed the tea is placed in a highly heated pan, in which it is stirred about briskly till the whole mass becomes too hot to be worked by hand. Then it is tightly packed in a strong canvas bag, in which it is beaten by a heavy flat stick to consolidate it, and in this condition left for a night. Next day it is fired off in a pan, beginning with a high heat, which is gradually reduced during the nine hours or thereby of the operation, an incessant stirring and tossing being kept up the whole time. During this firing off the green colour of the tea is developed; and Indian green tea never owes any of its colour to “facing” with foreign substances.

Qualiities of tea.The qualities of a sample of tea and its commercial value can only with accuracy be determined by actual infusion and trial by a skilled tea-taster. Certain general and external appearances which indicate the class of a tea are obvious enough; but, although a pekoe may be readily distinguished from a souchong, the souchong of certain planters or districts may be more valuable than other pekoes. While it is impossible to define the conditions which determine the commercial value of an ordinary black tea, Col. Money lays down the following rules: the darker the liquor the stronger the tea, and the nearer the approach of the infused leaf to a uniform salmony brown the purer the flavour. Black tea of good quality should in infusion yield a clear bright brown liquor emitting a subdued fragrance, and in taste it should be mild, bland, and sweetish, with an agreeable astringency. Green tea yields a light-coloured liquor of high fragrance, but thin, sharp, and somewhat rasping in taste as compared with black tea.

Chemistry.The chemical components of tea leaves are essential oil, theine, tannin, boheic acid, quercetin, quercitannic acid, gallic acid, oxalic acid, gum, chlorophyll, resin, wax, albuminoids, colouring matters, cellulose, and mineral ash. Of these the first three—essential oil, theine, and tannin—are of importance in the infused beverage. The essential oil, on which the flavour of tea depends, is present to the extent of from 0·6 to 1 per cent. Theine (C8H10N4O2) is an alkaloid identical with the caffeine obtained from coffee, and it is remarkable that the same substance is yielded by the maté or Paraguayan tea and the guarana of South America, and by the kola nut of Central Africa, The theobromine of cocoa is also closely allied to theine, and the characteristic components of the extract of meat similarly show certain points of contact with these stimulant bodies. To the tannin of tea infusions is due what is known as the strength of the tea. Prof. Dittmar has recently examined a number of China and Indian teas in regard to the proportions of theine and tannin in their infusions and to the dependence of these proportions on the time of infusion. The general result was that Chinese tea yields more theine and less tannin than Indian tea, and that in both cases 10 minutes’ infusion extracts practically all the theine. Longer infusion adds only to the tannin that passes into the solution, and, as excess of tannin impedes digestion, prolonged infusion is hurtful and ought to be avoided.

The quantitative composition of tea is of course subject to great variation. The analyses by Mulder given in the accompanying table furnish a general idea of the proportion of constituents.

Hyson. Green. Congou. Black.
Volatile oil 0·79 0·60
Chlorophyll 2·22 1·84
Wax 0·28 0·00
Resin 2·22 3·64
Gum 8·56 7·28
Tannin 17·80 12·88
Theine [1] 0·43 0·46
Extractive matter. 22·80 21·36
Colouring matter. 23·60 19·12
Albumen 3·00 2·80
Woody fibre 17·08 28·32
98·78 [2] 98·30 [2]

A series of investigations into a large number of teas has been carried out by Mr G. W. Wigner (Pharm. Jour., 3d series, vi. 261, 281, 402). In tea as imported he found large proportions of moisture which could be expelled on exposure to a temperature of 212° F. In a range of thirty-five samples the average moisture was equal to 7·67 per cent., the lowest—in a Chinese young hyson—being 4·84, while in several congous it exceeded 10 per cent. The ash in sixty-seven specimens of ordinary and special (undried) teas he found to average 6·78 per cent., the maximum being 7·02 and the minimum 5·17; and of that ash 64·50 per cent. was soluble in water. The proportion of extractive substances in twenty-four teas varied from 26·15 in a congou to 44·85 in Moyune young hyson. The total average nitrogen from sixty green teas, slightly faced, was 3·76, from sixty black teas 3·26, from six Assam teas 3·64, and from exhausted leaves 3·80 per cent.

Adulteration.So long as the Western world remained almost exclusively dependent on China for its tea supply, adulteration was rampant and multiform in the trade. Especially among green and fancy teas there was scarcely such a thing as an unsophisticated sample to be obtained. The Chinese were also expert in fabricating an artificial gunpowder—appropriately known as ‘‘lie tea,”—which consisted of the sweepings of tea warehouses artfully made up with a paste of rice water. Paddy husks and many kinds of leaves faced with China clay, soapstone, catechu, and black lead also found their way abundantly into tea. On the European side, exhausted leaves were again dried, impregnated with catechu and gum, and faced up to do duty as fresh tea, and the leaves of numerous plants—sloe-thorn, hawthorn, willow, beech, plane, Epiloibium angustifolium, &c.—were freely worked up as tea. Adulterated tea is now, however, comparatively rare, largely owing to the watchfulness of the customs authorities. Moreover, as it is nearly as cheap to make tea from the leaves of the tea-plant as from those of any other herb, there is not much incentive to substitute the false for the real.

Moral and physiological effects.At a very early period in the European history of tea the probable effects of its use on the health and morals of the population attracted jealous attention, and a great deal was written, mostly in a hostile sense, on the subject. In 1678 we find Mr Henry Savile writing to his uncle, Mr. Secretary Coventry, in sharp reproof of certain friends of his “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 adds, with an audible sigh, “the truth is, all nations are growing so wicked as to have some of these filthy customs!” Some of the writers, however, although resolute for its banishment from the caddy, were willing to give it a place in the medicine chest. ”Among many other novelties,” says a medical writer in 1722, “there is one which seems to be particularly the cause of the hypochondriac disorders, and is generally known by the name of thea, or tea. It is a drug which of late years has very much insinuated itself, as well into our diet as regales and entertainments, though its occupation is not less destructive to the animal economy than opium, or some other drugs which we have at present learned to avoid.”[3] Dr Lettsom was the first medical writer who gave the public a reasonable and scientific account of the plant; but even he let the fear of its abuse run away with his judgment, asserting that “the first rise of this pernicious custom [that of drinking spirits to excess] is often owing to the weakness and debility of the system brought on by the daily habit of drinking tea; the trembling hand seeks a temporary relief in some cordial, in order to refresh and excite again the enfeebled system, whereby such persons almost necessarily fall into a habit of intemperance,”[4] Jonas Hanway (Essay on Tea, 1756) was among its most vigorous assailants. “Men,” he says, “seem to have lost their stature and comeliness, and women their beauty . . . . . What Shakespeare ascribes to the concealment of love is in this age more frequently occasioned by the use of tea.” To these complaints echoes were not wanting, but after a while the tea-drinkers had it all their own way. In the meantime, however, tea was not without its apologists. To say nothing of our own familiar poets and essayists, its praises have been sung by Herrichen and by Francius in Greek verses, by Pechlin in Latin epigrams, by Pierre Petit in a Latin poem of five hundred lines, and by a German versifier, who celebrates, in a fashion of his own, its “burial and happy resurrection.”[5] Huet, bishop of Avranches, has also paid his graceful tribute[6] to a stimulant to which, probably, no scholar was ever more indebted, and which he continued to enjoy at the age of ninety. Dr Johnson draws his own portrait as “a hardened and shameless tea-drinker, who for twenty years diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle had scarcely time to cool ; who with tea amused the evening, with tea solaced the midnight, and with tea welcomed the morning.”[7]

Authorities are not yet by any means agreed as to the exact physiological influence and value of tea. The very striking fact that theine is precisely the characteristic constituent of coffee, maté, guarana, and the kola nut, all substances eagerly sought after in different quarters of the globe, serves to show that the alkaloid satisfies some craving of the human system, although what its effect is has not yet been certainly determined. The quantity of theine consumed even by the most hardened tea-drinker is exceedingly minute, and there are not wanting authorities who assert that it is practically inert, an assertion surely contradicted by the general instinct of the race. What is indisputable about tea drinking is that it forms an agreeable means of imbibing the proportion of water necessary in human nutrition, which, being taken hot, communicates to the system a diffused warm glow. Further, as used by Western communities, it is a medium of taking, in the form of sugar and cream, no inconsiderable amount of real nutriment. The other effects of tea are more a matter of general impression than of ascertained scientific reality. Its virtues have nowhere been better summarized than by the earliest Chinese writer on the subject, the above-mentioned Lo Yu, who says, “It tempers the spirits and harmonizes the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness, lightens or refreshes the body, and clears the perceptive faculties.” The gentle exhilaration which accompanies the moderate use of tea is not followed by the depression which succeeds the use of alcoholic stimuli. Experience has proved that it sustains the frame under severe muscular or mental exercise without causing subsequent exhaustion and collapse. Tea is frequently found to be beneficial to sufferers from nervous headache, and it counteracts to some extent the effects of alcohol and of opiates. Taken in excess it produces cerebral excitement, sleeplessness, and general nervous irritability. The tannin contained in its infusions also interferes with the flow of the saliva, diminishes the digestive activity of the stomach, and impedes the action of the bowels. In this view the large quantity of strong tea used by the poor—and especially by the sedentary poor,—while serving to blunt the keen tooth of hunger, must work incalculable havoc with the digestive and nervous systems of the consumers.

Commerce and statistics.It is a remarkable fact that no mention of tea is made by Marco Polo, and that no knowledge of the substance appears to have reached Europe till after the establishment of intercourse between Portugal and China in 1517. The Portuguese, however, did little towards the introduction of the herb into Europe, and it was not till the Dutch established themselves at Bantam early in the 17th century that these adventurers learned from the Chinese the habit of tea drinking and brought it to Europe.

The earliest mention of tea by an Englishman is probably that contained in a letter from Mr Wickham, an agent of the East India Company, written from Firando in Japan, on the 27th June 1615, to Mr Eaton, another officer of the company, resident at Macao, and asking for “a pot of the best sort of chaw.“ How the commission was executed does not appear, but in Mr Eaton's subsequent accounts of expenditure occurs this item—“three silver porringers to drink chaw in.”

It was not till the middle of the century that the English began to use tea, and they also received their supplies from Java till in 1686 they were driven out of the island by the Dutch. At first the price of tea in England ranged from £6 to £10 per lb. ln the Mercurius Politicus, No. 435, of September 1658, the following advertisement occurs:—“That excellent and by all Physitians approved China Drink called by the Chineans Tcha, by other nations Tay, alias Tee, is sold at the Sultaness Head, a cophee-house in Sweetings Rents, by the Royal Exchange, London.” Thomas Garway, the first English tea dealer, and founder of the well-known coffee-house, “Garraway’s,” in a curious broadsheet, An Exact Description of the Growth, Quality, and Virtues of the Leaf Tea, issued in 1659 or 1660, writes, “in respect of its scarceness and dearness, it hath been only used as a regalia in high treatments and entertainments, and presents made thereof to princes and grandees.” In that year he purchased a quantity of the rare and much-prized commodity, and offered it to the public, in the leaf, at fixed prices varying from 15s. to 50s. the lb, according to quality, and also in the infusion, “made according to the directions of the most knowing merchants and travellers into those eastern countries.” In 1660 an Act of the first parliament of the Restoration imposed a tax on “every gallon of chocolate, sherbet, and tea, made and sold, to be paid by the maker thereof, eightpence” (12 Car. II. c. 23).

Pepys's often-quoted mention of the fact that on the 25th September 1660, “I did send for a cup of tee, a China drink, of which I never had drunk before,” proves the novelty of tea in England at that date. In 1664 we find that the East India Company presented the king with 2 Ib and 2 oz. of “thea,” which cost 40s. per lb, and two years afterwards with another parcel containing 223/4 lb, for which the directors paid 50s. per Ib. Both parcels appear to have been purchased on the Continent. Not until 1677 is the Company recorded to have taken any steps for the importation of tea. The order then given to their agents was for “teas of the best kind to the amount of 100 dollars.” But their instructions were considerably exceeded, for the quantity imported in 1678 was 4713 Ib, a quantity which seems to have glutted the market for several years. The annals of the Company record that, in February 1684, the directors wrote thus to Madras:—“In regard thea is grown to be a commodity here, and we have occasion to make presents therein to our great friends at court, we would have you to send us yearly five or six canisters of the very best and freshest thea.” Until the Revolution no duty was laid on tea other than that levied on the infusion as sold in the coffee-houses. By 1 William and Mary c. 6, a duty of 5s. per lb and 5 per cent. on the value was imposed. For several years the quantities imported were very small, and consisted exclusively of the finer sorts. The first direct purchase in China was made at Amoy, the teas previously obtained by the Company’s factors having been purchased in Madras and Surat, whither it was brought by Chinese junks after the expulsion of the British from Java. During the closing years of the century the amount brought over seems to have been, on the average, about 20,000 lb a year. The instructions of 1700 directed the supercargoes to send home 300 tubs of the finer green teas and 80 tubs of bohea. In 1703 orders were given for “75,000 Ib. Singlo (green), 10,000 lb imperial, and 20,000 lb bohea.” The average price of tea at this period was 16s. per lb.

During the 100 years from 1710 to 1810 the aggregate sale of tea by the East India Company amounted to 750,219,016 lb, worth £129,804,595, of which 116,470,675 lb was re-exported. The duties during that century (excepting a period of eleven years, 1784-95, when they were only 121/2 per cent.) were excessive, amounting to about 200 per cent. on the value of common teas. The results of so enormous a tax were the creation of a gigantic smuggling trade, extensive adulteration of imported teas, and much fabrication of counterfeit tea within the country. Probably the duty-paid tea did not represent more than half what was consumed under the name of tea. The following table exhibits the principal facts connected with the trade during the period of the Company’s monopoly, which terminated on the. 22d of April 1834, when the trade was thrown open to all, the prices quoted being those of good qualities in the Company’s warehouse or in bond:—

Xxx Average Price per lb. Rates of Duty. Home Consumption, lb.
1728 [32/6 (duty included)] 4/ per lb, and £13, 18/71/2 % 1,493,626
1760 . . . . . 1/ per lb, and £43, 18/71/2 % 3,860,976
1782 5/ congou; 9/10 hyson 1/14/5 per lb, and £55, 15/10 % 6,202,257
1783 . . . . . . . . . . 4,741,522
1784 4/10 congou; 8/3 hyson £12, 10/ per cent 10,150,700
1785 4/3 congou; 6/9 hyson . . . . . 14,800,932
1786 4/6 congou; 7/1 hyson . . . . . 15,851,747
1795 3/9 congou; 6/4 hyson £20 per cent 21,342,845
1801 3/5 congou; 5/6 hyson £50 per cent., £20 under 2/6. 23,730,150
1821 3/ congou; 5/4 hyson £100 and £96 per cent. 26,754,537
1833 2/61/2 congou; 4/2 hyson . . . . . 31,829,620

The progressive increase in the consumption of tea in the United Kingdom during 50 years from 1836 till 1886 is instructively shown in the accompanying diagram constructed by Messrs J. C. Sillar and Co., of London. The dotted line represents the average monthly consumption in each year; the fluctuations in price of good sound congou are traced by the black line; and the years in which reduced customs duty came into operation are indicated along the base. From 1860 onwards the amount of Indian tea entered for home consumption is shown in monthly average by a black column. This column brings out the remarkable fact that the Indian tea consumed in the United Kingdom in a year now exceeds the total consumption of all kinds in 1860, and is more than double the whole quantity used fifty years ago.

The following table shows the growth of the British tea trade for five years ending 1885:—

Xx India. Ceylon. China. Hong Kong. Total Imports. Home Consumption.
1881 45,434,130 171,676 161,749,692 10,445,758 209,801,622 160,225,911
1882 53,576,690 507,081 142,706,457 30,820,915 210,663,133 165,069,339
1883 59,252,435 2,005,510 145.249,136 10,863,696 222,262,431 170,828,431
1884 63,208,309 2,210,983 134,297,091 9,411,477 213,877,759 175,090,875
1885 63,794,025 4,242,244 131,234,354 8,353,829 212,143,820 182,443,215

The consumption of tea in the United Kingdom per head was in 1840 1·22 lb, which increased in 1850 to 1·86 lb; in 1860 it reached 2·67 lb, in 1870 3·81 Ib, in 1880 4·06 Ib, and now (1887) it is about 5 lb.

Next to the United Kingdom, the greatest tea-importing nation is the United States. Notwithstanding that tea has from 1873 been duty free (duty 25 cents per lb in 1870, 17·72 in 1871, and 15 in 1872), the habit of tea drinking does not grow in America as it is found to do in the British Isles, as is shown by the accompanying table.

Year ending 30th June. lb entered for Consumption. Per Head.
1870 40,812,189 1.06
1871 46,972,788 1.19
1872 34,224,494 0.84
1873 106,423,570 2.55
1875 64,708,079 1.47
1880 72,159,266 1.44
1881 81,949,796 1.59
1882 79,030,854 1.50
1883 70,771,225 1.31
1884 65,774,234 1.18
1885 69,820,172 1.22

Of the 72,104,956 lb of tea imported into the United States in the year ended June 1885, 35,895,835 Ib was Chinese, 32,156,032 came from Japan, and 3,540,148 Ib came from England. Nearly 6,000,000 Ib was re-exported, principally to Canada.

Next to the English, the Dutch are the greatest consumers of tea outside of China; and the only other considerable tea-using nation is Russia. The following table gives the amount of tea imported in the year 1884 by the principal tea-drinking countries:—

Russia 35,600,000 lb = ·43 lb per head.
Holland 3,900,000 „ = ·91
Denmark 820,000 „ = ·04 "
New South Wales 8,437,981 „ = 9·15 "
Victoria 11,524,205 „ = 11·99 "
South Australia 2,229,993 „ = 7·00 "
Queensland 2,757,277 „ = 8·75 "
Cape of Good Hope 1,295,042 „ = 5·00 "

By this table the Australian colonists come out as the most inveterate tea-drinkers in the world. The quantity received by Holland in 1884 was 2,250,000 Ib less than the imports of 1883, but the average of recent times has been 4,500,000 lb.

The quantity consumed in China has been estimated as high as 2000 millions of pounds annually, being at the rate of a little more than 6 Ib per head of the population; and, considering the tea-drinking habits of the people, the estimate is by no means extravagant. In this light it may be safe to affirm that the amount of tea used yearly throughout the world reaches the gigantic total of 2500 millions of pounds.

Bibliography.—The literature of tea is very copious but much scattered. The following works may be named: — Bontekoe, Tractat van het excellenste Kruyd Thee, The Hague, 1679; Sylvestre Dufour, Traités Nouveaux et Curieux du Café, du Thé, et du Chocolat, 2d ed., Lyons, 1688 (translation of 1st edition by John Chamberlayne, London, 1685; translations also in Spanish and Latin); J. G. Houssaye, Monographie du Thé, Paris, 1843; Robert Fortune, Three Year' Wanderings in China, London, 1847; Id., A Journey to the Tea Countries of China, London, 1852; S. Ball, Tea Cultivation in China, London, 1848; J. J. L. L. Jacobson, Handboek voor de Kultuur en Fabrikatie van Thee, 3 vols., 1843; S. A. Schwarzkopf, Die narkotischen Genussmittel—i. Der Thee, Halle, 1881; Lieut.-Col. E. Money, Cultivation and Manufacture of Tea, 3d ed., London, 1878; F. T. R. Deas, Young Tea Planter's Companion, London, 1886. See also parliamentary papers and official publications of Indian Government; Jour. Roy. Asiatic Soc.; Jour. Agri. and Horti. Soc. of India; Soc. of Arts Journ., &c. (j. pa.)


  1. The theine is certainly understated; more recent observers obtain from 1·8 to 3 per cent., and occasionally more.
  2. 2.0 2.1 The mineral salts (ash) partly included in these totals amounted to 5·56 and 6·24 respectively.
  3. An Essay on the Nature, Use, and Abuse of Tea, 14, 15.
  4. Lettsom, Natural History of the Tea-Tree, 78.
  5. Der Thee Begräbniss und glückliche Wiederauferstehung [1680?].
  6. In the verses beginning—

    “I, puer, i, Theam confestim in pocula misce;
    Urget non solitus lumina nostra sopor;
    Mens stupet; obtusæ languent in corpore vires;
    Languorem solvet vivida Thea novum."—
    Huetti Commentarius de rebus ad eum pertinentibus, 304.

  7. Literary Magazine, vol. ii.. No. 13 (1757).