Culinary Sleuth

Tea—Drink of the Millennium

by Lynn Kerrigan


We had a kettle; we let it leak;
Our not repairing it made it worse.
We haven't had any tea for a week.
The bottom is out of the Universe.
 —Rudyard Kipling

I like my coffee but I love my tea. Coffee takes the edge off "fog brain," that mysterious condition that afflicts one of two Americans upon awakening each day. It recharges my battery. Tea is my evening beverage because it calms, soothes and takes the edge off the hectic, rush-about, get it done day, a condition afflicting every American.

Are we returning to our pre-Revolutionary War roots when tea was the preeminent drink in the colonies? Are Americans becoming Englishmen? (The British drink 6 times more tea per capita than Americans.)


Perhaps tea will never replace coffee as the favorite American hot drink, but sales of various teas are multiplying. The industry grew from sales of $1 billion in 1990 to over $4 billion in 1995. That's a lotta tea!

Most likely the biggest factor in this growth is media coverage of possible links between cancer prevention and tea, especially green tea. Flavonoids, a compound found in tea plants appear to be an antioxidant preventing low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) from oxidizing and damaging arteries. Flavonoids also appear to inhibit blood clots thereby aiding in the prevention of heart disease and stroke.

Recent Dutch research suggests tea may reduce tooth decay, lower blood pressure and stabilize blood sugar.

Another reason for tea's rising popularity is that herbal teas are touted for their various medicinal qualities and consumers seek alternative remedies to prescription drugs and a positive, healthy lifestyle.


Tea Superstitions, Folk Legends & Traditions

If bubbles collect on the surface of your tea, money is coming your way.

Small pieces of tea that float on the top of the cup mean a visit from strangers.

The Indian monk, Bodhidharma, fell asleep by meditating. To ensure this would never happen again, he cut off his eyelids. A tea bush sprang from the spot where they landed, producing a drink that would forever banish fatigue.

In China, a cup of tea is a customary way to welcome a guest.

High Tea is not (as I thought) the tradition of high class British society. That's called low tea (early afternoon). High tea is the late afternoon meal of the middle class and includes a bounty of food.

Dating back 5,000 years, tea is one of the world's oldest beverages. Legend says Chinese emperor, Shen Nung, known as the "divine Healer," was the first to discover the beverage when some tea leaves blew into a pot of boiling water.

Tea seeds come from the Camellia sinensis, evergreen plants grown to their full height of 20 feet. Small, white flowers that resemble apple blossoms, cover the tree like plants and from these flowers come the seed. Strictly speaking, tea is any black, oolong, green or the rare white varieties of this plant. There are over 3,000 types of tea cultivated in 35 countries.

Serendipity played a part in the invention of the tea bag when Thomas Sullivan, American tea merchant, carefully wrapped his loose tea samples for restaurants. When he realized chefs were brewing the tea in the bag, he recognized a marketing opportunity.

A second serendipitous invention by an American occurred at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Tea plantation owner, Richard Blechynden had originally planned to offer hot tea samples to fair visitors. A heat wave squelched interest in his booth. Trying to save the day as well as his time and investment, he dumped a load of ice into the brewed tea and served the first "iced tea." It was (along with an Egyptian fan dancer) the hit of the fair.


Tetley's Tea Party Recipes

Gaffer's Maple Madness

Place tea bags, syrup and 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon in teapot. Pour in 4 cups boiling water. Cover and brew 5 minutes. Remove tea bags. Pour into teacups and top with small scoop of ice cream and a dusting of cinnamon. Makes five 6-oz. servings.


Gaffer's Union Jack

Bring apple juice, cloves, allspice and cinnamon sticks to boil. Pour over tea bags. Cover and brew 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and spices. Makes six 6-oz. servings.

ice tea  

About Tea

Ask Lipton Tea Line: (800) 697-7887 (free brochures and answers to questions). Or write

Consumer Response Center,
Thomas J. Lipton,
800 Sylvan Ave.,
Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632.
Web site:

Bigelow—(888) BIGELOW—Catalog available.

R.C. Bigelow,
PO Box 3921,
Milford, CT 06460.
Web site:

Say Tea—Periodic Online Newsletter:


Tea Storage

Tea leaves easily pick up foreign aromas and fade in contact with light, so they should be sold and stored in airtight, opaque containers. Shops that keep their teas in glass canisters are as bad as those that display coffee in open burlap bags. A proper container will keep tea fresh for months. Never store tea in the refrigerator or freezer because moisture can damage it.


More Tea?

Celestial Seasonings catalog: (800) 2000-TEA
The Collector's Teapot. Books and teapots. (800) 724-3306
Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. (212) 391-2060

Tea of the Month Club.
542 Ramona St.,
Palo Alto, CA 94301.
(415) 32T-CUPS.
(Also speaks on tea to interested groups.)

Tea Talk Newsletter. PO Box 860,
Sausalito, CA 94966. Sample $5. Year's subscription $17.95. Web site:

Stash Tea Web Site. Provides links to 50 tea related information pages.

Water & Leaves Co. (800) 699-4753


Copyright 1997 Lynn Kerrigan. No portion of this article may be reproduced for publication without express, written permission of the author.

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This Archived Page created between 1994 and 2001. Modified August 2007