History of Iced Tea

With June being National Iced Tea Month we wanted to explore the history of iced tea a bit more, looking at its origins before 1904 and where it has evolved. Iced tea came into the mainstream in the United States when it was served, out of necessity, at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904.

Print on stereo card of 1904 World's Fair where ice tea was rumored to have been invented.

Birdseye View World’s Fair, Shared by Boston Public Library, CC BY 2.0

History of Iced Tea

In actuality, iced tea had been in homes in the United States since the early 1800’s. Iced tea back then was more of a cocktail than a refreshing drink. Early cookbooks show recipes for Tea Punch, made with a combination of ice, green tea, sugar, cream and liquor. The green tea is not a surprise, as that was the predominant tea coming into the United States until the Opium Wars interrupted trade with China redirecting the tea trade to India and black tea. This punch took on regional names from Regent’s Punch (New England) to Chatham Artillery Punch (Savannah, Georgia).

Cookbooks in the later-half of the 1800’s started to talk about iced tea in the forms most American’s think of today – tea, ice, lemon and sugar. This is not a surprise given that ice boxes, the first form of the refrigerator, had become more prevalent in American homes at the same time. Sugar was present in all recipes but not in the quantities that are typically associated with sweet tea, until 1879.

Photo of Housekeeping in Old Virginia which housed one of the first recipes for ice tea.

Housekeeping in Old Virginia by miz_genevra, CC BY 2.0

Ice Tea Recipes and Varieties

The oldest known recipe in print for sweet tea was published in 1879 in Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree. It called for 2 teaspoons of sugar for roughly 6 ounces of tea over ice, followed by a squeeze of lemon.  Sweet tea is such a staple in the Southern United States that when visiting restaurants it is advised to ask for unsweet tea when ordering iced tea if sweet tea is not wanted. In other parts of the US, you will have to make your own sweet tea at the table with the available sugar packets.

Thai Iced Tea Photo

Thai Iced Tea by Mark Guim, CC BY 2.0

Thai iced tea has become a more frequent fixture in the US as Asian culture has become part of main stream America. This tea is very close to the early American recipes for iced tea in that it includes tea, cream and sugar – no alcohol though.

Today, much like soda, iced tea is readily available in many flavors, sweetened or unsweetened in bottles. While convenient, they still don’t hold a candle to the fresh brewed taste of homemade iced tea.

What do you put in your homemade iced tea?

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A Brief History of Tea

Statue of Lu Yu

Lu Yu – In Xi’an on the grounds of the Great Wild Goose Pagoda by Nat Krause, July 26, 2005, CC – 2.0

The history of tea is too long for a single blog post, but here we try to hit the highlights and key milestones in time.  Tea has been consumed by humans for a really long time and has influenced international relations for centuries.  According to legend, tea was discovered in 2737 BCE in China when the leaves of a nearby evergreen fell into the boiling water of the Emperor Shen Nung creating a beverage that reinvigorated him.  The first credible texts referencing tea plantations and the consumption of tea appear around 1000 BCE.  However, it took until the Tang dynasty (618-906 CE) for tea to become China’s national beverage.  It was during this dynasty that Lu Yu wrote the first book entirely about tea called Ch’a Ching, The Classic of Tea.

Tea appears to have first travelled beyond China during the late 500’s CE to Japan by way of Japanese Buddhist monks who utilized tea during their meditation rituals to maintain alertness.  Tea was first offered to the Russians in 1618, but the Czar did not like the taste, so tea failed to take hold there until the middle of the 1600’s.  Once the taste did develop in Russia, tea traveled thousands of miles in a caravan and was most likely the same Pu-erh tea that was traded with the Mongolians and Tibetans. Even though European explorers like Marco Polo mention tea in their logs as early as the 13th century, Europeans did not come into contact with tea in any large scale until 1627 CE by way of a Portuguese trading vessel.  As an American, tea is considered to be British, but it was the mainland of Europe that adopted tea first and it wasn’t until Charles II married a Portuguese princess, some forty years later, that tea took hold as fashionable in Britain with the British East India Company placing its first order of tea in 1664 (UK Tea Council, 2014).  Today, Europe still maintains a significant role in the tea trade with parts of the continent exporting more tea than some of the countries that actually grow it commercially.

Painting by Lai Fong of an American Clipper Ship

Portrait of an American Clipper Ship by Lai Fong (Lai Fong of Calcutta, fl. 1870-1910) currently at Childs Gallery, Boston, MA

Tea traveled with the colonists to America and it is the tax on tea that is credited as pushing the colonists to their breaking point with the British monarchy, helping to instigate the American Revolution.  While America was trying to figure out how to be a country, the Chinese emperor decided that foreign trade was to be paid for with silver, putting a very large burden on the British East India Company.  In response, they began to heavily export opium to China at the time to off-set the silver requirement, since the Chinese government did not stop the merchants from accepting opium instead of silver.  Simultaneously, the British began trying to figure out how to cultivate tea in India.

At about the same time that the British had success in growing tea in the Assam region of India, 1839, the First Opium War broke out between the British and Chinese.  At the start, it was estimated that the amount of opium flowing into China had increased to 40,000 chests annually from the pre-silver requirement level of 4,500 chests, prompting the Emperor to have local government officials arrest opium merchants and seize their stocks to be destroyed (Greenberg, 1951).  In response, the British sent troops from India both decimating the Chinese coast and ultimately giving Britain control what is now Hong Kong.

It is the consumption of tea by the British, and later the thirst for ready-to drink and iced tea by Americans, that fueled cultivation of tea not just in India but into Africa and then South America by some of the largest tea producers in world.  While China and Japan may produce more tea, this is mainly for domestic consumption rather than export.

Timeline of Tea

A Brief Timeline of Tea by Dominion Tea

Since tea cannot be commercially grown in every country and it continues to be the second most consumed beverage on the planet, I suspect it will remain a factor in international relations.  I can only hope that it brings more peaceful relationships in the future.  Do you think it can?

Let us know by commenting here, or sharing on Twitter or Facebook.

Hillary

Works Cited

Greenberg, M. (1951). British Trade and the Opening of China, 1800-42. In M. Greenberg, British Trade and the Opening of China, 1800-42 (p. 113). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

UK Tea Council. (2014, January 5). Tea – A Brief History of the Nation’s Favourite Beverage. Retrieved from UK Tea Council Web site: http://www.tea.co.uk/tea-a-brief-history-of-the-nations-favourite-beverage

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Why are there no tea plantations in the US?

You would be forgiven for believing that there are no tea plantations in the United States.  Aside from China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya there aren’t any other suitable locations for growing tea right?  If you read our earlier blog about where tea is grown you will note that the US does indeed grow some tea, though at very small quantities.  That got us thinking…  Why is it that American farmers never took up tea?  After all, tea does grow at a wide range of elevations and latitudes.  Much of the continental US from North Carolina and Tennessee southward lies at about the same latitude of Shizuoka prefecture, which leads Japanese tea producing regions.    So why is it that tea isn’t generally produced in the US?  Perhaps the most significant reason dates back to an 1897 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in which the author, William Saunders writes “At the lowest estimate, it costs about eight times more to pick one pound of tea in South Carolina than the prices paid for the same service in Asia.” (Saunders, 1897)  This one sentence appears over and over as justification for why tea isn’t produced here in America.  In short, it’s too expensive to compete with the cost of labor in Asia.  A hundred years later this thought process is strikingly familiar, with Asia continuing to produce all kinds of things with dramatically lower labor costs.  But is the lower labor rate really the reason or, as the report also suggests, might it have been the shortage of skilled growers and manufacturers was the real stumbling block to getting tea off the ground in the U.S.

Historical Events from the Civil War to 1900.

US History Timeline Surrounding the Tea Farm Experiment

At the time of the USDA study there was significant upheaval in the United States where the Civil War was still very much on the minds of the population. The American South, which arguably had the better climate for Tea, was struggling to rebuild, had suffered substantial loss of capital, and struggled to adapt to an economy not based on slavery.  Indeed, a report from the Debow’s Review, a widely circulated magazine of the time, published in October 1867, made it quite apparent that landowners felt the freed slaves “have ruined many Southern planters who had but little capital and endeavored to work their plantations on shares.” (Debow, 1867)  With the US Agricultural scene adapting to producing crops without slave labor, the idea of introducing a new agricultural product that required manual picking of leaves and a manufacturing process that was still foreign to the US would be laughable.

The current focus by many US consumers on locally grown or raised produce, wine, and cattle might give tea yet another chance in the US economy.  There are a number of tea growers in Hawaii producing specialty teas including Black, White, Green, and Oolong varieties.  Back on the mainland, there is one commercial operation in South Carolina where tea has been grown and abandoned multiple times since the 1800’s.  More recently the US League of Tea Growers has been formed in an attempt to bring together growers from across the country to share knowledge, develop best practices, identify or create cultivars suitable to the U.S., and to promote the U.S. tea industry.

Aged Photo of TeaAs we close out this blog it’s important to take away that there is tea being grown and produced here in the United States.  Over the coming years there may be greater availability of specialty tea products from across the country.  Perhaps tea does have a place in the American agricultural economy and perhaps, all those years ago, folks should have more fully read the fateful report for the USDA considering “Dr. Shepard stated that if he were twenty years younger he would plant 500 acres as rapidly as he could procure the plants. This indicated his faith in tea raising as a profitable industry.” (Saunders, 1897)

What do you think?  Is there a place for American produced teas?  If they were more expensive, yet locally produced from a farm you could visit, would you seek them out?

Want to know when the next blog comes out?  Follow us on Twitter @DominionTea, @DavidSColey, or @HillaryColey or follow Dominion Tea on Facebook.

Works Cited

Debow, J. D. (1867, October). Agricultural, commercial, industrial progres and resources. Debow’s Review.

Saunders, W. (1897). An Experiment in Tea Culture, A Report on the Gardens of Dr. Charles U. Shephard, Pinehurst, S.C. Washington: United States Department of Agriculture, Division of Gardens and Grounds.
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Where is Tea Grown?

We recently attended a tasting session featuring teas from around the world. The teas were outstanding to be sure, however, they represented teas from only a small portion of the world. The countries represented included China, Japan, Tibet, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya and provided a very diverse set of teas. These included white, yellow, green, black, dark, and even purple teas. But our tasting from “around the world” barely even scratched the surface. There are a huge number of countries growing teas. In fact, more than 50 countries grow tea today including many from Asia, a good number from Africa, and some perhaps surprising locations like former Russian states, Iran, Argentina, Brazil, and yes, even the United States, though not always at a high enough to be globally competitive. While the top four growers (China, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya) far and away surpass the others, tea production is very much a global business. The average American consumer tea is most likely from China, India, Sri Lanka, or Kenya. However, to illustrate just how global the business is, a somewhat dated report by the U.S. Department of Labor noted in 1996 that Germany, which grows virtually no tea, has consistently been one of the top countries supplying tea to the US market (Department of Labor, n.d.)!

China and India account for 55% of global tea production.

Countries grouped by relative global share of tea production. Based on 2011 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization data. http://www.fao.org/statistics.en/ (Full Tableau Visualization)

Tea as a Global Commodity

Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, behind water, and demand continues to grow year after year. While tea is consumed in the form of loose leaf, bagged tea, and chai, innovations in ready to drink teas, and powdered tea drinks in Asia continue to drive additional growth. One of the fastest growing segments in Asia, according to Euromonitor (Friend, 2013), is the powered tea segment with products like Xiang Piao Piao, which is a single serve cup of instant powered tea in a variety of sweetened flavors. According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Group on Tea, demand for black tea has exceeded supply since 2009. This long term demand is expected to keep the price of tea high for years to come (United Nations, 2012).

Coffee Rust

Photo of Coffee Rust – by Carvalho et al – CC-BY-SA 2.5

Where demand exceeds supply the price generally stays high until supply rises enough to meet that demand so it is reasonable to expect that more countries will see commercial tea planned and those already in the business may increase both the land area under cultivation and work to improve the yield of existing plantations. Additionally, some coffee plantations may choose to change over to tea. This is because coffee rust is increasingly impacting coffee plantations in South America and pushing down coffee production rates. Rust isn’t actually new, it’s what drove Sri Lanka to switch from growing coffee to tea back in the mid to late 1800’s. However, it is now impacting South America, parts of which are seeing the worst outbreaks of coffee rust since it took hold in the 1970’s. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expecting significant decline in crop yields for the 2013-14 season on top of already significant declines in 2012-13 (U.S. Departement of State, n.d.)

Given the growing appreciation and demand for ready-to-drink products and specialty teas in the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world we may very well have increased opportunity to experience an even wider variety of tea products from a wide variety of countries in the years to come.

[ See Related Post:  Tea vs Coffee Imports – Who are the superpowers? ]

Works Cited
Department of Labor. (n.d.). ILAB – TEA. Retrieved from Bureau of International Labor Affairs: http://www.dol.gov/ilab/media/reports/iclp/sweat4/tea.htm

Friend, J. F. (2013). Global Tea Opportunities in Retail and Foodservice. World Tea East. Atlanta: Euromonitor.

U.S. Departement of State. (n.d.). Retrieved from Coffee Rust Outbreak in Central America, Southern Mexico, and the Caribbean: http://www.state.gov/e/eb/tpp/abt/coffee/index.htm

United Nations. (2012, February 29). UN News Centre. Retrieved from Global tea prices set to stay strong this year, says UN agency: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/story.asp?NewsID=41411&Cr=Food+Prices&Cr1=#.UoS9i94o601

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