Little Egypt Heritage Articles
Stories of Southern Illinois
© Bill Oliver
4 September 2005
Vol 4 Issue: #33
Osiyo, Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen of Little Egypt,
After a two week hiatus, cataract surgery, and a trip to South Carolina
for a family wedding and a short research side trip, I was ready to
write about some of the interesting scenery and history of one of the
states which played an important part in securing our national
independence from Great Britain. However, a tropical storm named Katrina
put a damper on my enthusiasm.
Myths are stories and stories told often become myths. Stories vs myths
Natural disasters cause tensions to rise. Some folks react rather than
act. Some folks act out of their reactions. In any case there is often
frustration and anger exhibited. This article began with the tension of
the week and the desire to let some of that go. So, I went to the
cubboard for the varieties of teas we keep. Tea always tastes good and
Tea is steeped in mythology, but maybe the myth of the beginning of tea
drinking is sweetened with enough fact to make it close the what really
happened. As the story goes .....
The drinking of tea, can be said, began in ancient China over 5,000
years ago. According to one legend, Shen Nung, an early emperor was a
skilled ruler, creative scientist and patron of the arts. His
far-sighted edicts required, among other things, that all drinking water
be boiled as a hygienic precaution. One summer day while visiting a
distant region of his realm, he and the court stopped to rest. In
accordance with his ruling, the servants began to boil water for the
court to drink. Dried leaves from the nearby bush fell into the boiling
water, and the water was transformed into a brown liquid. As a
scientist, the Emperor was intrigued with the odor of the new liquid,
drank some, and found it very refreshing. And so, according to legend,
tea was created.
In Japan the serving of tea was elevated to a form of art in the
traditional Tea Ceremony. Though it took years of training and practice
to master this art it signifies no more than the making and serving of a
cup of tea, performed in the most perfect, most polite, most graceful,
most charming manner possible.
Meanwhile back in Europe, the Portuguese Jesuit Father Jasper de Cruz in
1560 tasted tea in China and introduced it to his country. The
Portuguese developed a trade route by which they shipped their tea to
Lisbon, and then the political affiliation with Holland allowed for
Dutch ships to transport it to France, Holland, and the Baltic countries.
By 1650 the Dutch were actively involved in trade throughout the Western
world. Peter Stuyvesant brought the first tea to America to the
colonists in the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam (later re-named New
York by the English). Settlers here were confirmed tea drinkers. On
acquiring the colony, the English found that the small settlement
consumed more tea at that time then all of England put together. Due to
its expense, tea was taken mainly for its curative powers ... good for
colds, dropsies and scurvies ... to “expelleth infection”.
As mentioned, at first tea was very expensive and only the wealthy could
afford to drink it. Also, they could afford all the necessary
accoutrements, i.e. tea table of mahogany, teaspoons of silver,
porcelain teapots, cups and saucers. Yet, as the supply of tea increased
by the middle 1700s tea became affordable for the colonists. That is
until tea drinking came to a screeching halt due to the imposition of
taxes on tea by the British. This, of course, you remember, led to the
“Boston Tea Party” on 16 December 1773, when men disguised as Native
Americans, opened and dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.
By this time people were so accustomed to the beverage that a story says
that a couple found a slightly damaged chest of tea from the “party”
floating in the harbor. They then served the exhilarating drink with
“chat and gossip” it to their friends and neighbors.
Following the Revolutionary War tea again became popular in America as
the price of tea [and other luxury goods] diminished. It has been said
that by 1800 over half of all American homes boasted of having a teapot.
As tea began as a “rich man’s” drink, tea and the associated serving
pieces were considered status symbols by all others. Thus, even on the
frontier, hostesses serving tea socially hoped that by associaton with
the tea serving ceremony, the guests would think of them as
well-mannered and “genteel”.
In “Towns” and cities, a bit of toast, bread and butter, or cake was
served with tea and often “teas” were held in the evening hours. While
in a country tea, they were held anywhere from three to five in the
afternoon, folks sat around the tea table with hot biscuits, and apple
pies, or sweet meats and milk, and after gossip and economic events were
discussed, the “tea” might be extended into the evening with singing,
dancing, cards and chess.
The complete tea equipment included a cream jug, a mote spoon, a slop
bowl, a spoon tray, a sugar bowl, sugar nips [or tongs], a tea caddy [or
teapoy], tea kettles with stands, tea strainers, tea table[s], tea trays
[or waiters], a tea urn [for large gatherings], teapot [for small
gatherings],tea cups and saucers.
Teas were made from Camellia sinensis, which is a tropical evergreen
bush. Only the new shoots, known as flush, thetop two leaves and a leaf
bud, are used. After picking the tea leaves are processed into green,
oolong, or black tea. The differences are in the processing, which in
part amounts to the time left to ferment.
Green teas are Gunpowder, LungChing, and Sencha. Oolong tea is
semi-fermented [oxidized]. One oolong tea is Ti Kwan Yin [Tea of the
Iron Goddess of Mercy]. Black tea is fermented longer than oolong tea.
Black teas include China Keemun, Darjeeling, Yunnan, Earl Gray, Lapsand
Souchong, and blends of English and Irish Breakfast.
One of my favorite teas comes from Stash Tea Company of Tigard, Oregon
and is flavored with licorice.
So, no matter the situation ... war, natural disaster, or family crisis
... to help you feel better and sooth your feelings, do as the British
do ... have a cup of tea.
e-la-Di-e-das-Di ha-wi nv-wa-do-hi-ya nv-wa-to-hi-ya-da.
(May you walk in peace and harmony) and
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