“You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.” C.S. Lewis
Britain – 1800’s: tea consumption reached an all-time high. Everyone wanted to drink tea but the price was considerable, especially with the amount of import tax levied by the government. It was only a matter of time before the smugglers took over with a vengeance. With supply limited and demand growing exponentially, there was money to be made. The East India Company was not pleased that their monopoly was being challenged. They used their powerful lobby in Parliament (many MPs were their shareholders). William Pitt the younger became Prime Minister in 1783. Even though he was only 24 years old, his strategy was brilliant. Rather than taxing tea imports, he introduced a massive tax increase on windows. In one simple move, tea smuggling came to a standstill.
“After tea it’s back to painting – a large poplar at dusk with a gathering storm. From time to time instead of this evening painting session I go bowling in one of the neighbouring villages, but not very often.” Gustav Klimt
I never connect ordinary daily routine events with artists who are almost bigger than life. I imagine them contemplating a colour, agonizing over a brush stroke or impatiently throwing open window shutters to bring more light into the room. It seems that even greatness must stop for a cup of tea.
Belvedere Palace at the end of the day.
The residence of the legendary painting “The Kiss.”
“If the earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.” Napoleon Bonaparte
This is not quite a tea quote, but it is one that reminds us that Istanbul has always been a city of international trade and commerce. What came as a surprise to me was that tea was a latecomer to Turkey, only becoming a widely consumed beverage in the 20th century in the aftermath of World War I. Coffee was an expensive import and tea was easily grown domestically on the eastern Black Sea coast which has the requisite fertile soil, mild climate and high precipitation. Turkish tea is usually prepared in two stacked kettles, and served in small tulip-shaped glasses which display the amber richness of the tea. Once you take a sip, you will be forever on an adventure.
“I’m an afternoon tea type of girl. I come from a Russian background where we love our teas. So between lunch and dinner after training I come home and I love a nice cup of tea with jam in it, as we drink it there. Black English Breakfast with raspberry jam is my favourite.” Maria Yuryevna Sharapova
Maria Yuryevna Sharapova, a well-known Russian professional tennis player, ranked World No. 2 as of October 22, 2012. She is correct – Russians love tea! Tea is the most popular beverage with over 80% of Russians drinking tea on a daily basis. An essential part of the Russian tea culture is the samovar, the Russian tea brewing apparatus made out of metal. It may be their cold climate that has given tea the title of Russia’s national beverage, but I think it is their history and culture that has forged a tradition that has become a symbol of hospitality and congeniality. One legend records that tea was first introduced in the 1630’s when a Mongolian ruler was said to have donated four poods (65-70kg) of tea to Tsar Michael I. It wasn’t long before there was trade, via camel caravan, between China and Russia: tea for furs. I can only imagine the stories that were told along the journey.
“Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors.” Alice Walker
Alice Walker, born February 9, 1944, is an American author, poet and activist best known for her critically acclaimed novel, “The Color Purple.” It is not unusual for Americans to consider tea an English drink. In fact, Great Britain had a great deal to do with the spread of tea throughout the globe via international trade. But for the Portuguese, the British may never have been introduced to the exotic brew. The year was 1662 when Catherine of Braganza, daughter of King Juan IV of Portugal and soon to be wife of King Charles II, sailed into Portsmouth harbour. Hidden in her dowry, was a chest of tea. Catherine was a tea addict. It wouldn’t be long before all of England would share her obsession. Tea was first served at court to ripple across fashionable society before finally trickling down to the middle classes. And then came the taxes but that is another story…
The Chinese have many legends on the mysterious origins of tea. It is said that the Emperor Shen Nung discovered the fragrant leaf in the third millennium B.C. Others say it was Buddha who introduced tea to China. Lao Tzu was offered tea when he traveled through Szechwan in the sixth century B.C.; Confucius is said to have taken tea. These narratives are shrouded in the mists of time, yet we know for certainty that tea, in all its glory, originated in China.
As I drink my afternoon tea and feel the warmth return to me after a brisk walk, I decided that this week would be about tea. With autumn upon us, most of us have our teapots and kettles ready to go. What better time to talk about a history that is full of danger, conflict and espionage. Join me as we explore the many and varied people who have made tea famous.
“I am not at all interested in immortality, only in the taste of tea.”
“Tea 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.”