Chapter III. Historical -- Continued.
[image:14554 align=left hspace=1]The same year that Pepys so intrepidly drank his first cup of tea in London, a tax was imposed by the English Parliament of 8 pence (16 cents) upon every gallon of tea made and sold as a beverage in England. A like tax was levied on liquid chocolate and sherbet as articles of sale. Officers visited the Coffee Houses daily to measure the quantities and secure the revenue.
In 1710 the best Bohea tea sold in London for 30 shillings or $7.00 a pound, inclusive of a government tax of $1.25 on each pound, and the consumption in England was then estimated at 140,000 lbs. per annum.
There being no authentic record or official computation of the population of Great Britain or of England previous to 1801, no comparison can be made of English tea consumption per capta with those early days.
Dr. Samuel Johnson, when taking tea with David Garrick, the tragedian, and Peg Woffington, about the year 1735, was amused at Garrick's audible complaints that the fascinating actress used too much of his costly tea at a drawing. In 1745 the British yearly consumption of tea was but 730,000 lbs. The Scotch Judge, Duncan Forbes, in his published letters of that period, wrote that the use of tea had become so excessive, that.........
"the meanest families, even of laboring people, particularly in boroughs, make their morning's meal of it, and thereby disuse the ale which heretofore was their accustomed drink; and the same drug supplies all the laboring women with their afternoon's entertainment, to the exclusion of the twopenny," (i.e., dram of beer or spirits).
So that we may trace our ultra-fashionable 5 o'clock tea of 1900 back to its plebian origin among plain working people, to the working woman, to the washerwoman of 150 years ago. Let the revived custom not lose caste by this admission, but rather gain in wholesome popular estimation by evidence of a common tie between the humblest and the most fortunate of mankind.
A president of an English Court of Sessions also complained that tea was driving out beer, and indirectly injuring the farmer, in whose cottage, he omitted to say, the tea canister had begun to occupy a place of honor, despite the lessened demand for his malt.
In 1745, the British tea tax was reduced to 1 shilling (25 cents) per pound, together with 25 per cent of the gross price. The selling price immediately dropped, and British consumption in 1846 rose to 2,358,589 lbs. The use of tea has often been checked by excessive duties or excise tax. From 1784 to 1787 British consumption rose from five million pounds to seventeen millions of pounds, consequent upon a reduction of duties. Twenty years after, under the imposition of exorbitant duties, British consumption was only nineteen and one quarter millions of pounds.
It was in those early years of the nineteenth century that tea firmly and permanently established itself in the humbler households of England. Its economical prominence elicited from William Cobbett, the economist and pugnacious editor, a declaration that from eleven to twelve pounds of tea constituted the average annual indulgence of a cottager's family, at a cost of eight shilling for black and 12 shillings for green tea ($2 to $3) per pound, which was doubtless an over-estimate. And we must bear in mind that tea in those days was sold by the ounce, measured into the teapot by the grain, and was steeped until every vestige of flavor, savory or bitter, had been extracted from the precious leaves.
Although in 1807 the governing powers of Great Britain forced excise duties on teas up to ninety per cent. of their cost, tea had been proved to be so beneficial and essential to happiness by British workers that Charles Dickens, in reviewing the situation, presents it as follows: - " And yet the washerwomen looked to her afternoon 'dish of tea' as something that might make her comfortable after her twelve hours of labor, and balancing her saucer on a tripod of three fingers, breathed a joy beyond utterance as she cooled the draught. The factory workman then looked forward to the singing of the kettle, as some compensation for the din of the spindle. Tea had found its way even to the hearth of the agricultural laborer, and he would have his ounce of tea as well as the best of his neighbors." But the heavy taxed worker was often forced to choose between a tea adulterated with English plants of other kinds, or the contraband but genuine commodity offered by enterprising smugglers, who were the despair of the Crown officers of the revenue, and the recognized friends of the over-taxed poor.
It must not be inferred that tea as a beverage became naturalized in England without meeting with the unreasoning opposition that usually greets the advent of a stranger. The press and pamphlets of the day contained frequent attacks upon tea, and the violence of denunciation usually bore a fair proportion to the ignorance of the writer; ignorance of physiology, ignorance of medicine, ignorance of the pamphlets itself. The unfavorable opinions and portentous predictions of some of the physicians of the period are among the curiosities of medical records. Tea, like all other things, may be abused, and a good friend be converted into an enemy. But cold water has killed many persons, and plain bread sometimes proves indigestible.
The plant whose leaves yield the tea of commerce is variously termed Camellia Theifera; Thea Sinensis; or Chinensis; Thea Assamica; Thea Bohea and Thea Viridis, according to its origin, variety of the writer's fancy. While the real character of the East Indian or Assam tea plant has been recognized by botanical science less than seventy years, and the Chinese tea plant has probably been utilized for fifteen hundred years, it will be more convenient to begin our remarks with the later discovery.
Writers at the present time continue to describe the tea plant as a "shrub" of about six feet in height. The indigenous tea plant of India, which is believed to be the parent stock of Chinese tea plants, is a tree, growing to a height of 20 to 35 feet with a trunk 8 to 10 inches in diameter, and bearing leaves of a lively green, 8 to 9 inches in length and 4 inches in breadth. The leaves are much more delicate in texture than those of Chinese plants, which hardly reach 4 inches in length, and the former contain a larger percentage of the invaluable alkaloid, Theine. Dr. Chas. U. Sheppard, in a historical sketch of Tea Culture in South Carolina, tells us that a tea tree which was planted planted by Michaux, about 15 miles from Charleston, and about the year 1800, had attained a height of say 15 feet when he saw it a few years ago.
The native Indian tree is, however, not now utilized upon a commercial scale for tea purposes. The reason for neglecting the native plant we do not find definitely stated, but infer from several sources of information that it is owing to the extreme delicacy of constitution of the Assam plant, its demands for excessive moisture and high temperature, and its preference for partial shade, evidenced by its growing in the jungle and under other trees. Possibly a difficulty in restraining its luxuriant habit of growth is also involved. However this may be, the commercial tea of Ceylon and India is a product of a cultivated cross between the tender native Indian and the hardier Chinese tea plants, in which the Assam strain bears the proportion of one half to two thirds. A more robust plant under cultivation is the result, and one which preserves the best qualities of both varieties. This cross is usually termed a hybrid.
It seems probable that the removal of the tropical Indian plant to China, more than a thousand years ago, with its much colder and dryer climate and its poorer soil - for the best soil of China has been set apart for rice and other indespensable foods - together with continual removal of its leaves, have in time evolved a tea plant so different from its parent stock, that scientists failed for many years to recognize the Indian original. Several times in the early years of this century zealous travellers and residents of India sent to England specimens of the native Indian tea plant for scientific examination. But conservative government officials had already established a botanical or technical standard for the tea plant to which every aspirant for relationship must conform; no one of them seems to have thought of the simple test of the teapot. Finally some rash investigator, not having the fear of scientific anathema before his eyes, crudely cured a few leaves, and actually put them in hot water. Tea merchants immediately recognized the plant and the magic circle of the Circumlocution Office was smashed into bits.
Meanwhile, Chinese tea plants and Chinese experts and laborers had been imported into India and tea gardens were well under way before the native tea plant had been recognized. But in the ultra-tropical climate of India, Chinese tea plants languished, and success was finally obtained only by abandoning the stunted Chinese varieties, and getting back nearer to the indigenous Thea Assimica; and by the introduction of modern agricultural methods under British management, and even by the use of machinery for rolling tea and for firing tea by currents of hot air. Indian laborers now supersede the Chinese workmen, who were not found sufficiently pliable in adapting themselves to European ideas.
To preserve the historical record of tea so far as possible, we will state that while the indigenous Indian tea plant had been recognized somewhere about the year 1820, the first serious and sustained attempts to grow tea in India were made by Englishmen, about 1834, using Chinese tea plants and Chinese workmen for the purpose. English authorities differ upon the exact dates. The first shipment of English grown tea from India to London was made in 1838; it amounted to but 60 chests, which brought at auction in London $2.25 a pound. The second shipment in 1839 of ninety five chests brought $2.00 a pound. In 1899 the Indian tea crop amounted to about 175,000,000 lbs., and the size of Indian tea gardens varied from 100 acres or less up to 4,000 acres. In 1897 the total acreage of tea plantations in India was stated by Mr. Crole at 509,500 acres, equal to nearly 800 square miles.
Ceylon began to grow tea on a commercial scale as late as 1875, after her coffee plantations had been ruined by disease. That year her total acreage was about 1,000 acres, In 1883 Ceylon exported a million and a half pounds of tea. In 1897 she had 400,000 acres of growing tea, equal to 625 square miles; and the estimate of Mr. William MacKensie, Tea Commissioner for the Ceylon Government, of her production for 1900, is 135,000,000 lbs.
The aggregate exports of tea by India and Ceylon is about 310,000,000 lbs., a complete reversal of conditions of tea trade within twenty years, and due entirely to British enterprise and the fine quality of British grown teas.
A liberal estimate for the total exports of Chinese and Japanese teas for 1899 would be 340,000,000 lbs.; so that it is fair to say that the world's consumption of tea, outside of China and Japan, is now equally divided between teas of the latter two countries and those of English growth.
Tea Leaves, 1900, was written by Francis Leggett & Co.