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Tea: That Most American of Beverages

May 8, 2008

Lately, tea drinking seems to have reached epidemic heights in the U.S. Only a few years ago, tea drinkers in this country were lucky to find anything other than crappy Lipton's brand black tea in grocery stores and restaurants. These days, tea emporiums are flourishing, run-of-the-mill corner cafes stock a wide selection of brews from standard black teas to more adventurous greens, whites and reds, and Americans all over the country are exchanging their cafetieres for teapots. The other day, I was even able to obtain a cup of camomile tea in my local bar.

What's behind the new popularity of this seemingly least American of beverages? Certainly, tea isn't a new commodity in the U.S. It's hardly Kombucha, the fermented mushroom-based drink that seems to be all the rage right now.

According to the fascinating history page on the Stash tea company website, the American tea revolution has its roots in the 17th century. Apparently, settlers were confirmed tea drinkers. Peter Stuyvesant brought the first tea to America to the colonists in the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam around the 1650s. Tea became popular in the 18th century, particularly among genteel women. But the war of Independence scuppered the relationship between America and the beverage when the British raised taxes on tea, which led to the Boston Tea Party of 1773.

Coffee may have since far overtaken tea as the brewed beverage of choice in the U.S., but tea is obviously now making a comeback. Why? Doctors' orders probably have something to do with it -- a cup of black tea has far less caffeine than the average cup of coffee, and many Americans are switching to tea for health reasons.

I'm guessing that the rise of Starbucks and other similar beverage outlets may have also helped to reunite the American public with tea, as has the growing popularity of yoga, Chinese medicine and various other practices brought to the U.S. by Eastern tea-drinking nations in recent decades.

Turning tea into a "luxury" item through skillful marketing and fancy packaging etc has also helped to raise the profile of the beverage in the media.

As much hype as there is about tea right now, I don't think tea drinking is a fad. It's here to stay. Let's not forget, after all, that the U.S. is responsible for two of the most enduring tea traditions. It was an American tea plantation owner, Richard Blechynden, who invented iced tea in 1904. And his fellow countryman, Thomas Sullivan, who came up with the concept of "bagged tea" four years later.

2 Comments:

  • Well done Chloe,

    My wife is a big tea drinker, her mother is English, and I am alright with it unless it interferes with my time. This is a bit silly but also real; there is something I call:

    Tea Time Terror

    Of course, this says more about me than her but there is this way she has of needing to have a cup of tea just before we need to do something else.

    A battle of needs.

    It is non-negotiable, she must have the tea-it's in her genes-and that's alright, I just don't like being held hostage to someone else's habit...I mean tradition. And one that is so slow. If you drink it hot and fast, it will hurt you. It is slow. Time practically stops. And that is the point, isn't it?

    I get it. I suppose. But it is all in the timing, right?

    Because I understand it is about calming down. Taking a break. Taking a breath. Relaxing. I'm all for that. I would like to support it, but not when it breaks my stride-you know? It is mean.

    I'm convinced Tea Time Terror is a passive aggressive way for the English, my wife being a Half-Brit, to put in us a small warm spot where we must think about what a mess we have made of their world?

    Just a thought. But it could be true. Maybe not.

    I suppose I could be the crass American too. Maybe I should just succumb. I suppose I could use a cup of tea or three. I just don't think I can slow down enough to really, really understand.

    Terrorized American Man

    ps i do enjoy the smoky ecstatic buzz i get from the Yerba Mate-seven drops of Stevia, a little milk-cooled down in the fridge (ahead of time)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 8, 2008 at 1:21 PM  

  • Tea Tim Terror, eh? I think my husband, who's from Detroit, suffers from the same affliction.

    By Blogger Chloe, At May 8, 2008 at 1:59 PM  

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