Until a quite recent period botanists believed that the tea plant was a native of China, and that its growth was confined to China and Japan. But it is now definitely known that the tea plant is a native of India, where the wild plant attains a size and perfection which concealed its true character from botanical experts, as well as from ordinary observers, for many years after it had become familiar to them as a native of Indian forests.
How early in the history of the Chinese that people discovered and developed the inestimable qualities of the tea plant is not known. That Chinese scholar, S. Wells Williams, in his Middle Kingdom places the date about 350 A.D. But somewhere between 500 A.D. and 700 A.D. Tea had become a favorite beverage in Chinese families. Some of the written records of that ancient people push the epoch of tea-drinking back as far as 2700 B.C., appealing to ambiguous utterances of Confucius for corroboration. Tea in China had obtained sufficient importance in political economy in 783 or 793 A.D. to become an object of taxation by the Chinese Government.
Gibbon, in his great work, tells us that as early as the sixth century, caravans conveyed the silks and spices and sandal wood of China by land from the Chinese Sea westward to Roman markets on the Mediterranean, a distance of nearly 6,000 miles. But we hear no mention of the introduction of tea into Europe or western Asia until a thousand years later.
According to Mr. John McEwan (International Geog. Congress, Berlin, 1899,) tea soon found its way from China into Japan and Formosa, but was not cultivated in Japan on a commercial scale until the 12th century.
John Sumner, in a Treatise on Tea (Birmingham, 1863), states that the Portuguese claim to have first introduced tea into Europe, about 1557. Disraeli (Curiosities of Literature) offers evidence that tea was unknown in Russian Court circles as late as 1639.
But Russia and Persia seem to have naturalized tea as a beverage about the same time that it became known in England. Little is said about Persian tea-drinking in modern writing upon tea, but the testimony of many travelers bears witness to the national love of tea by Persians.
The Encyclopedia Britannica concedes to the Dutch, the honor of being the first European tea-drinkers, and states that early English supplies of tea were obtained from Dutch sources. It is related by Dr. Thomas Short, ( A Dissertation on Tea, London, 1730), that on the second voyage of a ship of the Dutch East India Co. to China, the Dutch offered to trade Sage, as a very precious herb, then unknown to the Chinese, at the rate of three pounds of tea for one pound of Sage. The new demand for sage at one time exhausted the supply, but after a while the Orientals had a surfeit of sage-tea, and concluded that Chinese tea was quite good enough for Chinamen. If the European traders had known the virtue of sage-tea for stimulating the growth of human hair, and had given the Orientals the cue, sage leaves might have retained their high value with the Chinese until now.
In these days, it may be remarked, the Dutch are said to drink as much tea per capita as the Russians, who are as fond of tea as the Chinese.
While both the English and Dutch East India Companies exhibited in England small samples of tea as curiosities of barbarian customs very early in the 17th century, tea did not begin to be used as a beverage in England even by the Royalty until after 1650.
In a number of the weekly Mercurius Politicus ( a predecessor of the present London Gazette), dated September 30, 1658, occurs this advertisement:
" That excellent and by all pysitians 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."
This appears to be the earliest recorded and authentic evidence of the use of tea in England.
Macaulay, in a note in his History of England, says that tea became a fashionable drink among Parisians, and went out of fashion, before it was known in London, and refers to the published correspondence of the French physician, Dr. Guy Patin, with Dr. Charles Spon, under dates of March 10 and 22, 1648, for proof of the fact. Macaulay also says that Cardinal Mazarin was a great tea-drinker, and Chancellor Seguier, likewise.
Frankest and shrewdest among men of brains who have given to the world their inmost thoughts, old Samuel Pepys, pauses in the midst of conferences with Kings and Princes to record that " I did send for a cup of tea (a China Drink) of which I had never drank before." This in September 1660. Seven years later he writes in that wonderful Diary - "Home, and there find my wife drinking of tee, a drink which Mr. Pelling, the Potticary, tells her is good for her cold and defluxions." Then goes on to rejoice over the repulse of the Dutch in an attempt upon London.
To coffee and tea are due the establishment of that unique English institution, the London Coffee House. Inns, where quests were expected to lodge as well as eat; restaurants, in which men tarried only for a single meal; and Beer and Spirit shops, abounded in London; but the Coffee House ushered in a new era, and actually changed the daily habits of a large majority of representative London citizens. While it is asserted Mr. Jacobs established the first Coffee House in England, at Oxford, it was a native of Smyrna by the name of Pasqua Rosee who first opened a Coffee House in London, in St. Michael's Alley, Cornhill, in 1652. Hot coffee only was here dispensed, during the day and evening.
Coffee Houses soon increased in number and extended over the business districts of London. Business men quickly recognized the value of a beverage which cleared the mental vision while refreshing and stimulating both mind and body, and repaired to the Coffee House at all hours for the joint purpose of drinking coffee and transacting business with their fellows. Coffee-Houses became the Commercial Exchanges of London, and they were also the precursors of modern English Clubs. Men of affairs, Statesmen, literary celebrities, artists, naval and military officers, all repaired to the Coffee Houses to meet each other, to hear and discuss the serious topics and the light gossip of the day.
The introduction of tea gave the coffee-houses another strong hold upon their customers, and chocolate as a beverage soon followed. Among the early dispensors of these harmless hot drinks was Thomas Garway, or as written later, Garraway, whose four-story brick coffee-house on Exchange Alley, first opened in 1659, had been a rallying point for Londoners for 216 years, when it was pulled down to make room for other structures, in 1873. Garraway left a monument that has outlasted his coffee-house, in the form of a famous tea circular.
Garway's Famous Circular is so often quoted and mutilated that we print it here in full; it has no date, but it is supposed to have been printed in 1660:
"AN EXACT DESCRIPTION OF THE GROWTH, QUALITY AND VIRTUES OF THE TEA LEAF, by Thomas Garway, in Exchange Alley, near the Royal Exchange, in London, Tobacconist, and Seller and Retailer of Tea and Coffee.
"Tea is generally brought from China, and groweth there upon little shrubs and bushes, the branches whereof are well garnished with white flowers, that are yellow within, of the bigness and fashion of sweet-brier, but in smell unlike, bearing thin green leaves, about the brightness of Scordium, Myrtle or Sumack. This plant has been reported to grow wild only, but doth not: for they plant it in their gardens about four foot distance and it groweth about four foot high, and of the seeds they maintain and increase their stock. Of all places in China this plant groweth in greatest plenty in the province of Xemsi, latitude 36 degrees bordering up on the west of the province of Namking, near the city of Lucheu, the Island Ladrones, and Japan, and is called 'Cha.'
Of this famous leaf there are divers sorts (though all one shape), some much better than others, the upper leaves excelling the others in fineness, a property almost in all plants; which leaves they gather every day, and drying them in the shade or in iron pans, over a gentle fire, till the humidity be exhausted, then put close up in leaden pots, preserve them for their drink, TEA, which is used at meals, and upon all visits and entertainments in private families, and in the palaces of grandees; and it is averred by a padre of Macao, native of Japan, that the best tea ought to be gathered but by virgins who are destined for this work, and such,
'quae non dum manstrua patiuntur; gemmae quae nascuntur in summitate arbuscula servantur Imperatori, acpraecipuis e jus dynastus: quae autem infra nasccuntur adlatera, populo conceduntur.'
The said leaf is of such known virtues, that those very nations so famous for antiquity, knowledge and wisdom, do frequently sell it among themselves for twice its weight in silver; and the high estimation of the drink made therewith hath occasioned an enquiry into the nature threrof amongst the most intelligent persons of all nations that have travelled in those parts, who, after exact trial and experience by all ways imaginable, have commended it to the use of their several countries, and for its virtues and operations, particularly as followeth, viz:
The quality is moderately hot, proper for winter and summer The drink is declared to be most wholesome, preserving in perfect health until extreme old age.
The particular virtues are these;
It maketh the body active and lusty.
It helpeth the headache, giddiness and heaviness thereof.
It removeth the obstructions of the spleen.
It is very good against the stone and gravel, cleaning the kidneys and ureters, being drank with virgin's honey, instead of sugar.
It taketh away the difficulty of breathing, opening obstructions.
It is good against tipitude, distillations, and cleareth the sight.
It removeth lassitude, and cleanseth and purifieth acrid humours, and a hot liver.
It is good against crudities, strengthening the weakness of the ventricle, or stomach, causing good appetite and digestion, and particularly for men of corpulent body, and such as are great eaters of flesh.
It vanquisheth heavy dreams, easeth the frame, and strengtheneth the memory.
It overcometh superfluous sleep, and prevents sleepiness in general; a draught of the infusion being taken, so that without trouble, whole nights may be spent in study, without hurt to the body, in that it moderately healeth and bindeth the mouth of the stomach.
It prevents and cures agues, surfets, and fevers, by infusing a fit quantity of the leaf, thereby provoking a most gentle vomit and breathing of the pores, and hath been given with wonderful success.
It (being prepaired and drank with milk and water) strengthenth the inward parts, and prevents consumption; and powerfully assuageth the pains of the bowels, or griping of the guts, and looseness.
It is good for colds, dropsys, and scurvys, if properly infused, purging the body by sweat and urine, and expelleth infection.
It driveth away all pains of the collick proceeding from wind, and purgeth safely the gall.
And that the virtues and excellences of this leaf and drink are many and great is evident and manifest by the high esteem and use of it (especially of late years) among the physicians and knowing men of France, Italy, Holland and in England it hath been sold in the leaf for six pounds (sterling) and sometimes for ten pounds the pound weight; and in respect of its former scarceness and dearness it hath been only used as a regalia in high treatments and entertainments, and presents made thereof to princes and grandees till the year 1657. The said Thomas Gaeway did purchase a quantity thereof, and first publicly sold the said tea in leaf and drink, made according to the directions of the most knowing merchants and travelers in those eastern countries; and upon knowledge and experience of the said Garway's continued care and industry in obtaining the best tea, and making drink thereof, very many noblemen, physicians and merchants, and gentlemen of quality, have ever since sent to him for the said leaf, and daily resort to his house in Exchange Alley aforesaid, to drink the tea thereof.
And that ignorance nor envy may have no ground or power to report or suggest that which is here asserted, of the virtues and excellencies of this precious leaf and drink, hath more design than truth, for the justification of himself, and the satisfaction of others, he hath here enumerated several authors, who in their learned works have expressly written and asserted the same and much more in honour of this noble leaf and drink, viz. - Bontius, Riccius, Jarricus, Almeyda. Horstius, Alvarez Semeda, Martinivus in his China Atlas, and Alexander de Rhodes in his Voyage and Missions, in a large discourse of the ordering of this leaf, and the many virtues of the drink, printed in Paris, 1653, part x, chap.13.
And to the end that all persons of eminency and quality, gentlemen and others, who have occasion for tea in leaf, may be supplied, these are to give notice that the said Thomas hath tea to sell from sixteen to fifty shillings in the pound.
And whereas several persons using coffee have been accustomed to buy the powder thereof by the pound, or in lesser or greater quantities, which if kept for two days loseth much of its first goodness, and forasmuch as the berries after drying, may be kept, if need require, some months, therefore all persons living remote from London, and have occasion for the said powder, are advised to buy the said coffee-berries ready dried, which being in a mortar beaten, or in a mill ground to powder, as they use it, will so often be brisk, fresh, and fragrant, and in its full vigour and strength, as if new prepaired, to the great satisfaction of the drinkers thereof, as hath been experienced by many of the best sort, the said Thomas Garway hath always ready dried, to be sold at reasonable rates.
All such as will have coffee in powder, or the berries undried, or chocolata, may, by the said Thomas Garway, besupplide to their content; with such further instructions and perfect directions how to use tea, coffee, and chocolata, as is or may be needful, and so as to be efficatious and operative, according to their several virtues.
Garway's Circular embodies the redundancy of a modern legal document with the pretentious ignorance and hifaluting language of the so-called medical treatises of his day. There are many ear-marks of both lawyer and doctor in this curious composition, and we can imagine the ostentatious pride with which Garway circulated the learned sense and nonsense among patrons no wiser than himself.
Tea Leaves, 1900, was written by Francis Leggett & Co.