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A President, A Monk, A Heist And A Duchess… And Other Times Tea Appeared In History

Okay, so maybe history wasn’t everyone’s favorite subject in school, but when it comes to tea—and its thousands of years of history—there are definitely some interesting stories to tell. So, grab a mug of your favorite Bigelow Tea flavor and enjoy these fun tales of tea from centuries past!

  1. The story behind afternoon tea: Many tea drinkers may think of afternoon teatime as a British tradition (even though the post-lunch, pre-dinner cup and nibble has roots across numerous cultures). Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford is the woman to thank for the traditional English teatime as we know it. In 1840, Anna started partaking in the light meal to help stave off afternoon hunger pangs in between lunch and the typically late dinner hour of the time. Hey, whatever is necessary to avoid getting “hangry,” right?
  2. How about some ice for that hot tea? Richard Blechynden has often been attributed with making the first iced tea at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904. As sales for his hot tea dropped while summer temperatures rose, he purportedly poured tea over ice to entice fairgoers. Some dedicated research tells another story, though, with iced tea’s roots reaching as far back as 1879, when Marion Cabell Tyree created a recipe for green tea over ice, which was published in a community cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia. Later, in 1884, another recipe for iced black tea surfaced from the Boston Cooking School.
  3. The oldest book on tea! Long ago—in 1211 to be exact—a famous Buddhist priest by the name of Eisai wrote what is known to be the oldest book on tea in Japan: Kissa Yojoki (“How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea”). Kind of cool to know that even in the 1200s, tea was a part of a trend of healthy living…
  4. When tea wasn’t considered patriotic: Letters between John and Abigail Adams mention tea. One from July 1774 describes a hostess only serving coffee since tea (during the American Revolution) was considered unpatriotic. Fortunately, Americans came back around to this delightful beverage—and not just for throwing it into harbors.
  5. Tea in tombs: Experts now have what they believe is physical evidence of tea’s existence in two tombs that are 2,100 years old. Leaf buds found in these tombs resemble the finest tea. To prove their hunch, researchers compared the chemistry of the buds to modern tea samples. The presence of caffeine was helpful, but not conclusive, evidence. A few other plants also contain caffeine. Finding theanine was “the clincher.” The investigation also supported the belief that tea has long been highly prized and sought after, as one of the tombs –in western China – belonged to an emperor. Sounds like the humble cup of tea has some pretty lofty ancestors!
  6. Even a heist! According to Smithsonian magazine, in 1848, the British East India Company sent Robert Fortune on a trip to an area of China that was forbidden to foreigners. Disguised as a Chinese merchant, his mission was to steal the secrets of tea horticulture and manufacturing. (No need for thievery these days, we put our best blends right in the teabag for you to enjoy.)

Whether it was the subject of scandal, a sought-after noble treat or a target of old world corporate espionage, tea has a storied history that could give the likes of James Bond a run for his money. So the next time you’re confronted by a historical fact and feel your eyes threatening to glaze over, just think about how tea was probably livening things up behind the scenes. Do you have a favorite tea-related story to tell from your own history? Tag #TeaProudly on social media and share it with us!

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