Tag Archives: American History

5 US Presidential Facts Involving Tea

First Lady Hoover Loved Tea

First Lady Lou Hoover

In honor of President’s Day, we went digging around in history to figure out if any of the U.S. Presidents or their wives did something fun, historically significant or just routinely drank tea. As much as America is seen as a coffee drinking country now, the White House has seen its fair share of tea parties that have helped to shape the history of the country. So here are five US Presidential Facts involving tea.

  1.  Thomas Jefferson drank a lot of tea according to his financial records. Based on the names, he drank an interesting variety from a tea named Imperial, to Chu-chong, congo and bohea teas. (Monticello, 2016)
  2. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy is known for having redefined the role of the First Lady in both the entertaining that occurred at the White House as well as spear heading other issues that were outside of the President’s focus. Mrs. Kennedy did her first entertaining at the White House using afternoon teas, within days of moving in. She started with inviting in her step father and mother and then the next day hosted George Balanchine, the choreographer of the New York City Ballet. (JFK Library, 2016)
  3. First Lady Lou Hoover faced political backlash in 1929 when she originally intended to invite Mrs. De Priest to the congressional wives tea at the White House. Mrs. De Priest was the wife of Oscar De Priest, the first African-American Congressman, elected in 1928 to represent Illinois. Eventually, Mrs. Hoover arranged a second tea for Mrs. De Priest at the White House, with a select group of guests. She was still criticized by many of the Southern Congressman for promoting equality. (White House Historical Society, 2016)
  4. Teddy Roosevelt was known for his love of American food and had little use for exotic treats, except for Hu Kwa Tea, which is another name for Lapsang Suchong. During President Roosevelt’s time, the name Hu Kwa or Howqua was attached to many goods coming from China as it was the name of a famous Chinese merchant who had died almost almost 60 years earlier that many Americans associated with fairness and honesty. Howqua was also one of the wealthiest men of his time having made his fortune during the Opium Wars. (Landau, 2007)
  5. A daily cup of tea was not just for our founding fathers, both Gerald Ford and Lyndon Johnson had a cup of tea with their typical breakfast. Where the two men differed is that President Ford had an English muffin with jam while President Johnson preferred chipped beef and cream with his cup of tea. (Haller, 1987)

Works Cited

Haller, H. (1987). The White House Family Cookbook. New York: Random House.

JFK Library. (2016, February 9). JFK Library. Retrieved from John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/JFK-Fast-Facts/Entertaining-in-the-White-House.aspx

Landau, B. (2007). The President’s Table: Two Hundred Years of Dining and Dipolmacy. New York: Harper Collins.

Monticello. (2016, February 9). Monticello. Retrieved from Monticello Website: https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/tea

White House Historical Society. (2016, February 9). The White House Historical Society. Retrieved from White House Historical Society Website: https://www.whitehousehistory.org/hoover-depriest-tea-party-creates-a-stir


Notable People in the History of Tea

Statue of Lu Yu

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

The history of tea is intertwined with religion, commerce, early notions of wellness and more. Understanding where tea has come from requires looking at the notable people who influenced the production and consumption this fine drink across the globe. Given that tea has been around for a few thousand years, there are many people to consider, from religious scholars, to corporate spies, and even accidental inventors. There are really too many, in fact, for one blog post so we’ve selected a few of our favorites to touch on briefly.

Lu Yu

As the man credited with documenting the production and consumption of tea in China, his work, The Classic of Tea, still has meaningful insights into ancient production of tea. Born in Hubei, in central China, Lu Yu lived between 733 and 804 C.E. This book gives a view into the Chinese practices around tea and its status as one of the seven necessities in life. The poems and quotes in the book are still relevant today, about 1200 years later!


This buddist monk, also known as Eisai Zenji (or Zen Master Eisai) is credited with bringing tea seeds to Japan and planting them near Kyoto, creating the first tea farm in Japan. He is also credited with writing the first book about tea consumption in Japan during his lifetime from 1141 to 1215 C.E. His writings on tea are credited with spreading tea culture throughout Japan and setting the stage for the Japanese tea ceremony.

Robert Fortune played a critical role in the history of tea and its move to India.

Robert Fortune – An early example of corporate espionage.

Robert Fortune

As the botanist for the British East India Company, he is credited with stealing seeds and tea plants from China that where then taken to India to plant. While these initially failed, Fortune (1812 – 1880 C.E.) helped to identify the native camilia seninsis var. assamica, which is considered the backbone of Indian tea. He helped the British East India Company break the monopoly that China had on tea.

Arthur Campbell

Living from 1805 to 1874, Arthur Campbell planted camilia seninsis var. seninsis seeds in the Darjeeling region of India. Without him, the British East India Company would not have expanded tea production into Darjeeling and we would be missing a seriously good tea (see Darjeeling – The Champagne of Tea).

Thomas Sullivan

The story goes that in the early 1900’s Thomas Sullivan started sending tea samples to customers in small bags. Not knowing that this was simply meant as a convenient way to ship the tea, his customers dropped the entire bag in water, soon after complaining that the silk was too fine all the while demanding more tea bags from Mr. Sullivan. He was not the first to create it, but just make it a commercially viable design that was widely adopted. The first to patent the tea bag in the U.S where Roberta C. Watson and Mary Molaren. They were unable to turn their patent into a commercial business, but their design looks pretty similar to the modern day version minus the string to pull it out of the water.

There are so many people that have contributed to the history of tea through thousands of years and this is just a small sampling. Do you have a favorite?

An American Christmas Tea Tradition

Many of our Christmas traditions came from England though Christmas Tea hasn't stuck.

Christmas Tea in England is a tradition which can be adapted for your own family. By Flickr user James McCaffrey (https://www.flickr.com/photos/15609463@N03/)

Adding a Christmas tea tradition to your holiday is easy if you follow the British model and give it your own spin. Many of the Christmas traditions found here in the U.S. originated in England. Not a surprise given who came to the colonies. Decorating your home, stockings, letters to Santa are all British traditions. What has not stayed as a tradition in the U.S. is Christmas tea. Much like Americans, the British sit down to a large afternoon meal consisting of meat, vegetables, stuffing, etc. However, around 6 pm, British families will gather again for Christmas tea. So let’s explore what is served at a Christmas tea and how to put an American spin on this tradition.

Serving Christmas Tea in the Evening

Serving a caffeinated beverage in the evening may not sit well with all family members. So this tea may require two pots, one with a caffeine free tisane and one with a more traditional tea. Evening teas in Britain are typically done with a lighter black tea like Darjeeling or Yunnan tea. These are more floral teas and less brisk than traditional breakfast teas. There is really no reason to deviate from these teas, unless you decide to do iced tea. At which point, return to those brisk morning teas to make flavorful iced tea. There is nothing wrong with serving iced tea for an evening tea at Christmas, especially when the weather is unusually warm. As for that caffeine free tisane, try rooibos or honeybush, as both brew a tasty drink whether hot or cold and can be complimented with milk and sugar for that traditionalist.

What to Serve with Your Christmas Tea

Christmas Tea is Perfect with Petite Fours

Christmas Petite Fours by Flickr User Jo Naylor (https://www.flickr.com/photos/pandora_6666/)

Evening tea typically has both savory and sweet small items to eat. Now, after that big afternoon meal, there is no need to go overboard here. For the savory, the traditional serving is a small mincemeat pie or sausage roll. I don’t know about you, but after having already cooked that afternoon meal I don’t want to cook anymore. So time to pull out the leftovers or borrow from the snack trays that are already out and being munched on while watching football or movies. Just think salty and savory (cheese and crackers, pizza bites, turkey sandwiches cut into quarters, miniature quiche).

For the sweets, head to the cookie tray. Christmas cookies are wonderful companions to a cup of tea, both hot and cold, and Santa will probably appreciate one less on his plate. If something more elegant is desired, petite fours are perfect for tea as they can be made in advanced and decorated in a Christmas theme. If a more traditional biscuit or scone is desired, these can be made in advance, frozen and then popped into the oven just before tea, just don’t forget the jam and butter for these.

Whether it is following the traditional British tea, or creating your own, there is always room to add tea to your holiday traditions. Share your favorite holiday food to eat with tea.

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?

CSS Shenandoah: Tea Clipper Turned Confederate Raider

This week we are deviating a bit away from a pure tea related blog and taking inspiration from a book by Clive Cussler and Grant Blackwood.  Their book Lost Empire, a story about treasure hunters Remi and Sam Fargo who find a ships bell off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania leading them on a search for information about the Confederate Sailing Ship (CSS) Shenandoah, a ship which began life as a tea clipper ship before becoming a commercial raider in the US Civil War.  Curiosity got the best of me and I wanted to find out if the Shenandoah actually existed and what its role in history actually was.  As it turns out the Shenandoah did actually exist and has a fascinating story all its own.

The CSS Shenandoah began life as the steam cruiser Sea King, intended for the Chinese tea trade.

“From the North British Daily Mail, August 18th, 1863:  ‘She is named the Sea King, and is, we understand, the first screw steamship built on the principle of iron frames and wooden planking, and also the first steamer that has been specially constructed for the China trade, having been built with the view of competing with the fastest ships in the trade direct from China to London, in bringing home the first teas of the season.’” (Grace’s Guide, 2012)

Confederate Sailing Ship Shenandoah

Confederate Sailing Ship Shenandoah

Constructed in Glasgow, Scotland in 1863 by Alexander Stephen & Sons, who also built the paddle steamers Fergus and Dare as blockade runners for the Civil War  (Grace’s Guide, 2012), the Sea King was built with an iron frame and wooden deck.  This alone was somewhat novel for the time as iron based ships were a very new concept and there were still many who thought iron ships could never float.  In fact the British government didn’t even allow transport of mail in iron vessels until 1960 (Grace’s Guide, 2012).

During its construction the ship attracted the attention of Confederate agents in Europe looking for candidates for commercial raiding ships.  In particular, she was a three mast sailing ship with an auxiliary coal-fired steam engine and a screw that could be raised while sailing to reduce drag. (Markowitz, 2013)  The ability to run either as a sailing vessel or under steam power allowed the ship to be very fast and make headway in a variety of conditions.

After an initial voyage to deliver British troops to New Zealand, the Confederate Navy secretly purchased her.  She was met at sea by confederate officers and equipment necessary to refit her for military purposes including the installation of large guns.  The CSS Shenandoah set sail October 1864 for what would be only a 13 month voyage.

James Iredell Waddell, Captain of the CSS Shenandoah

James Iredell Waddell, Captain of the CSS Shenandoah

Commanded by James Waddell, the CSS Shenandoah regularly needed to recruit sailors as a large crew was necessary to meet needs for sailing, firing guns, and boarding other ships.  Many sailors were recruited from captured ships and when she arrived in Melbourne, Australia in January 1865 for repairs she was able to take on quite a number of new replacement crew members.

The Shenandoah focused on unarmed merchant ships from the Union.  Among others, she destroyed over 20 whaling vessels and may have inadvertently helped end of the US whaling industry, having wiped out nearly 50% of the fleet during her short service.  Despite the civil war ending in May 1865, the CSS Shenandoah didn’t receive official word until after capturing and destroying about two dozen ships.  She finally learned that the Civil war had ended in late June 1865 off San Francisco.  Rather than returning to the United States, she sailed to England and was turned over to the British in Liverpool in November 1865.

After that the Shenandoah was sold on behalf of the United States to Zanzibar and was renamed to the El Majidi.  At this point the details are a bit fuzzy, with various sources suggesting she then served as a passenger liner, a slave ship, or a cruiser in the Zanzibar navy.

Sultan Sayyid Majid bin Sa’id, the new owner of the Shenandoah, now the El Majidi, was the Sultan of Zanzibar which had had only been recognized as an independent realm in 1861.  This was a time when the British Government was pressuring Zanzibar to end slavery.

A couple of additional notes to round out the story of the CSS Shenandoah:

  • She was the only Confederate ship to circumnavigate the globe.
  • Her battle flag still sits in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA.
Map of Tanzania

Map of Tanzania

As for Zanzibar and tea; while Zanzibar itself is known for cloves, the island is now part of Tanzania.  The country of Tanzania is a grower of tea, like Kenya to the north.  The tea industry in Tanzania is supported in part by the Tea Board of Tanzania, the Tea Research Institute of Tanzania and the Tanzania Smallholders Tea Development Agency.

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Works Cited

Born 2 Suffer. (2008, January 23). The Al Bu-Said Dynasty. Retrieved from KBI-SGD (Born 2 Suffer): http://borntosuffer1.blogspot.com/2008/01/al-bu-said-dynasty_23.html

Grace’s Guide. (2012, November 6). A Shipbuilding History. 1750-1932 (Alexander Stephen and Sons): Chapter 2. Retrieved from Grace’s Guide: British Industrial History: http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/A_Shipbuilding_History._1750-1932_(Alexander_Stephen_and_Sons):_Chapter_2

Markowitz, M. (2013, January 9). CSS Shenandoah and the Last Shot of the Civil War. Retrieved from Defense Media Network: http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/how-the-rebels-saved-the-whales/