The Victorian Kitchen Celebrates – The Chinese New Year
Visitors to the museum this Saturday were able to celebrate “The Year of the Rat” by taking part in a Tea Tasting. Some even had a sneak preview of their year ahead with a prediction found in a Fortune Cookie. By the way those who are born in the Year of the Rat will prosper in their career by increasing their salary, getting promotion or passing examinations and gaining new qualifications. However, watch out for those health issues you might have been ignoring – respiratory or heart problems. Get them checked out!
One of the teas on offer was the famous Lapsang Souchong. Many said they had often wondered about buying some to try but were reluctant in case it wasn’t to their taste!
Following a small cupful, some were quite agreeably surprised by this smoky flavoured beverage, others were not so sure, a few had their worst fears confirmed!
However, whatever the outcome, everyone entered into the spirit of the event with enthusiasm.
The story of tea goes back over 5,000 years in China; Britain’s love affair with this beverage has only a meagre 500 year history.
It was Charles II and his bride, Catherine of Braganza, in the mid-17th century who made this a very fashionable drink. Of course, as it was very expensive, it was only the wealthy who could afford to drink it.
Tea was initially served without milk, sweetened to counteract its naturally slightly bitter taste and in very small, handleless cups or tea bowls.
The King, Queen and their friends liked to drink tea outside whilst being entertained by music, dancing, opera or even firework displays. This led to the development in London of Tea Gardens. The most famous of these were Vauxhall and Ranelagh.
Despite the heavy Tea Tax on all tea imported into Britain, the demand for this commodity continued to rise. The East India company, which had been established to ostensibly trade in all goods from the Far East, but in practice to capture the lucrative tea trade, found it more and more difficult to meet this demand.
China kept tight control of how much tea she was prepared to release for trade with the west.
The Company decided that China’s monopoly on tea simply had to be broken.
So, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries India was considered as a country where tea plants might possibly be grown. Early trials failed. But, then a native tea was found growing in Assam. This gave the British hope. Finally a breakthrough came, the area called Darjeeling came under British influence. The milder climate was perfect and Chinese tea plants thrived there.
Exactly how the tea plants got to India, or how the Chinese workers were persuaded to share their knowledge and skills about how to cultivate the plants and to process the picked leaves is rather murky! But, in contrast, what is very clear is that, India became one of the major tea growing countries of the world.
With the opening up of tea imports from India it became now quite affordable for many more people in Britain. The middle and working classes soon were enjoying this and in fact many initially regarding tea as almost a medicine, or at the very least a tonic or pick me up!
The working classes found that they could very cheaply buy a cup of hot sweet tea from a street vendor, and they were surprised what a lift it gave them. They felt it helped them work longer and harder; so not a bit of wonder it was imbibed so freely.
And so our national drink was born!
To round off this article – Here is a Miscellany of Facts about Tea. Some you may already know, some may surprise you, some you might even find a little odd but all go to show what an amazing product Tea actually is!
- It is the most popular beverage in the world next to plain water.
- Turkish people are said to consume the most tea. They drink about 7lbs per person per year. The Irish are next with 5lbs per person per year.
- The British drink 165,000,000 cups of tea a day.
- The Americans seem to prefer their tea cold, the largest number of tea sales in the US are for iced tea.
- In the Himalayas Yak butter is added to tea.
- Green and black tea both come from exactly the same plant; they are just processed differently.
- Herbal tea isn’t tea at all because it doesn’t contain any tea leaves.
- In the early 18th century 125g of fine tea would cost in today’s money between £150 and £180.
- John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, regarded tea as very dangerous. He believed it caused nervous disorders and advised total abstinence.
- Twinings the tea company in 1831 created a tea especially for the Prime Minister of the day. They called it Earl Grey because that was his name!
- A tea company sent out samples of their tea in small silk bags. Customers didn’t empty the tea leaves into a cup they dropped the whole bag into water. This was in 1908 – the concept of a teabag was thus created.
- And then when you’ve enjoyed a pot of your favourite brew, don’t waste the tea leaves. They can be – sprinkled on floors and then swept up to collect the dust, used to naturally dye cloth, they add nutrients to the soil if sprinkled around roses, and when added to the compost heap help to break everything down.
- And any left over tea can be used to provide the liquid for a delicious fruited tea bread or used to marinate meat!
Remember the Victorians didn’t waste anything; perhaps it’s time to take a (tea) leaf out of their book!