The New York Times, December 11, 1870, p.8:
FOR DRINKERS OF TEA.The Various Brands and Their Characteristics.
Something About the Tea Trade
of the United States Past and Present—Professional Tasters and Their Experiences—
How to Make a Cup of Good Tea.
The history of the tea trade in the United States finds its parallels in the annals of British commerce. Just as in 1667, the East India Board of Directors made their first modest venture of £100 to be invested in teas, so, about 100 years later, our direct trade commenced by sending a small vessel laden with ginseng and furs to the distant China, and her return with a few chests of tea.
Tea ad from the Nov 15, 1885 New York Times
From that time until this, every year has seen a steady augmentation of the business. From 3,047,242 pounds brought into the United States in 1790, in 1854 it was 30,000,000 of pounds, in 1866 44,000,000, and this year the quantity is likely to reach 46,000,000 of pounds.
New-York is the great centre of receipts and distribution. Boston, some thirty-five years ago, received more than New-York; but at present her receipts are insignificant, and what does come to her is mostly placed for sale here.
Some twenty-five firms, about, import the bulk of the teas, though hardly any single one makes tea their sole business. Generally other Eastern products enter in conjunction with tea, as matting, rice, some few drugs, silks, fire-crackers, &c.
One house celebrated for its high commercial standing and large capital, Messrs. A. A. Low & Bro., leads the business. They are said to import, alone, more than one-half of all the tea offered on the New-York market. The large business they transact is evident from the fact that when you look at the tea-chests exposed in the grocers' windows you will be almost certain to see several packages marked with their initial, A. A. L. & B.
All the tea houses enjoy a high credit, and are eminently respectable. Fluctuations in gold give them, of course, untold commercial worry, as the unknown quantity so fearful to all business is aggravated in their case by the length of time occupied before the merchandise, after purchase in China or Japan, reaches a market. Sales to arrive, with free use of the wire, have, however, some little smoothed these troubles.
Formerly a notable proportion of tea came to us from India, and some small parcels from Japan. The best was Chinese. The India teas were of poor quality, and used for remixing here.
India tea is now rarely, if ever, found on our market. The English, but careful attention to its culture, have lately so much improved its quality, that quite a demand has sprung up for it in Great Britain, and it is not impossible that some of it may find its way here again.
We derive no inconsiderable portion of our supply from Japan. This business may be called most exclusively an American one. In England very little of it is used. It is highly probable that before long, when communication between California, China and Japan is more extended, tea will become a prime article of commerce, and San Francisco will supply, by means of the Pacific Railroad, most of the tea used west of the Mississippi.
Occasionally we receive tea from the stock in England, and sometimes from stores held in Canada. This occurs when a particular grade is scarce, or a difference in exchange becomes possible. Occasionally we turn the tables, and ship teas to Canada.
Black teas are divided into Oolongs, Ningyons, Souchongs, Pouchongs and Pekoes; green teas into Young Hyson, Gunpowders, Imperials, Hysons, Twankeys and Hyson Skins.
ADULTERATION OF FLAVORS AND COLORS.
The general public make this distinction, that black teas are pure teas, free from adulterations, while green teas have the color and flavor imparted to them by an artificial process. We approach this delicate point with no little apprehension, as we have known a very kind-hearted family almost use their butter-knives on one another over this mooted question.
In regard to black teas, the notion of their being the unadulterated leaves of the plant is probably a just one, while green leaves owe their color or bloom to pigment, but their taste belongs entirely to their different method of preparation.
All depends upon the time allowed to elapse between the picking and the roasting. If passed over the fire immediately after picking, green tea is made; if a longer time is allowed to intervene, black tea is manufactured.
The reason of the color, not of the flavor, is easily understood. Take an apple or any fruit, slice it, and cook it immediately, and it will retain somewhat of its natural color; on the other hand, if, after having prepared it, you let it stand some hours, it will change color, or oxydize, and, when preserved, will have a darker appearance.
The peculiar effects of change of taste, though perfectly appreciable, are more difficult to determine. In roasting green tea, however, it will prove not to be very clear in color, and to become too dark, and therefore the Chinese use either indigo or Prussian blue, with a little gypsum, to freshen its appearance. Fortunately, this coloring matter, used in exceedingly small quantity, may be considered as perfectly innocuous. The effect on the system is produced entirely by difference of the treatment of the leaf.
Green tea is said to over excite, while black tea is rather soothing to the system. As to the chemical property of tea we have little to say. Theine is the peculiar substance. It should exist to about two per cent. in all teas. Sometimes six per cent. is found. The theine, strange to say, has certainly nothing to do with the flavor of the tea.
Japanese teas, which have attracted so much attention of late, seem to owe their popularity to the notion that they occupy a middle place between green and black teas. They are said to be natural teas, to draw as light as green, and to taste something like blacks. When the best experts are questioned in regard to Japans, they shrug their shoulders and say "maybe so; but if you want our exact ideas about them, they are rubbish; they have no flavor, are not economical; people drink them for a kind of compromise. It's the fashion." Let us rather suppose that some amount of prejudice dictates this reply, and that old-fogy ideas refuse anything like an innovation.
The demand for Japs is steadily on the increase. In 1867, 6,500,000 pounds were received, in 1868, 7,500,000, in 1869, 10,500,000, and this year, counting some cargoes yet to arrive, we may expect nearly 11,000,000 of pounds.
One reason for the adoption of Japanese teas is that they are honestly packed, which is rather an exception with Chinese teas. This brings us to the chapter of falsifications.
Generally nothing hurtful is put into teas by the Chinese. They take tea-dust from an inferior tea and pack it cleverly into the middle of the chest, and so it escapes detection. No difference in weight is appreciable. Sometimes as much as fifteen per cent. of a chest of tea is tea-dust. Occasionally a lump of Chinese mud, nicely plastered over with tea, is found.
A twelve-month ago out West, a lady made ineffectual efforts with a spoon to get some of the precious herb from the middle of her tea-box. Scrape all she could nothing would come!. At last, with a mighty effort, a Chinaman's head, with pig-tail and all, was extricated from the box. A murdered man discovered at the bottom of a butt of sherry wine is said to have notably improved its flavor, but we doubt of its excellence in a chest of Oolong.
This persistent swindling of the Chinese has told against them, and some former popular chops are now unsalable on this account. In England every chest of tea is opened, taken from its original package and sampled, and if satisfactory returned to its box. In the United States we have no time for this. The consequence is that reclamations are very constant, and settlements made only with great difficulty.
Such adulterations as of aloe-leaves are impossible, as the expense of preparation would come to more than the adulteration could be sold for. How we get cheated is by having a poor tea from a good sample, or by grocers mixing a low-priced tea in quantity, with a very little of a high-grade of tea.
PROFESSIONAL "TASTERS" OF TEA.
The large houses who import the tea sell very little direct to jobbers and wholesale grocers. Occasionally some of our leading retail grocers, who owe their reputation to the undoubted excellence of their goods, will buy direct. All the tea may be said to be sold by the brokers. The principal houses and brokers have either as a part of the firm, or as an employee, a tea-taster, and a very important personage is he.
Now, Sancho Panza's uncles were famous wine judges, but we must give the palm of delicate gustatory power to the tea-taster. He must essentially be a pure-mouthed man. That organ must be virgin of cigars or quids. Even a Jersey sausage or a fried onion for breakfast may throw him out for the day. A cold in the head makes him as useless as a blind man in a color shop. Of course, every business requires its particular talent, and a good castor-oil taster is worth a proportionate salary. But between the delicate tea-taster and the excoriated mouth of the vulgar brandy and whisky man there is the difference between Hyperion and a satyr.
Firstly he takes a pinch of tea from the chest or large sample, looks at it critically to find quality of preparation, amount of dust, and then breathes on it gently and smells. Already he has formed more than a crude idea of its value, but now comes the crucial test. Before him is a good-sized breakfast table, and around its edge innumerable little porcelain cups—maybe twenty of them. He sits down and commences table-turning—the piece of furniture revolving on its foot, so that once seated, every cup comes before him in succession.
He weighs out a sample of each kind of tea, about as much as will counterbalance a silver five cent piece, and puts that much in each cup. Then from a big kettle boiling away, with gas under it, he pours water into the cups. The infusion takes place. The tea is at first tumbled about by the boiling fluid, but presently it subsides; he thus judges the condition of the leaf. He skims off a hardly perceptible scum.
If it be green tea, and badly colored, he sees if there be any excess of coloring matter which becomes detached. He then smells again; but such a long-absorbing smell, being more than careful that his mouth does not approach the cup, for the mouth would kill the impression...
He then tastes! We cannot say this is a pleasing exhibition... Simply he sucks it in, like a fire-engine, and then spits it out, like the exhaust of a Mississippi steam-boat, and ejects the fluid into a very ugly spittoon made for the purpose...
But listen to him, as the cups pass before him, for he is an enthusiast. "Good! trash, prime, magnificent, beastly, rubbish, fair, old hay, boiled rags, perfect nectar; I dont' think it could be better; confound this last sample; it's so bad it has spoilt my mouth..."
The best proof of the wonderful accuracy of the tea-taster is that he will absolutely tell you the province of China where the tea was grown; even when twenty different kinds of tea are to be tested in a lump, he will appraise their aggregate value, so much per pound for the lot. Let, then, expert No. 2 try them, and if both results tasting and smelling be examined, the figures arrived at will often approximate to a cent or two, gold...
THE CURL OF THE LEAF NO TEST.
...The best American experts say that the tea buying and drinking public pay too much attention to the leaf, and not enough to the flavor. If a poor tea is nicely curled, twisted or rolled, makes a pretty sample, and even draws badly, they will buy at an enhanced price. The appearance of the leaf, say our tea connoisseurs, has not all to do with the excellence of the article. Inside of the tea-pot it cannot make much matter, so it be free from dust, because the dust may come from an inferior tea. In Japan, travelers tell us, they pound the tea prior to infusing.
Large as the consumption of tea is in America and England, it is insignificant when compared with the enormous quantity used in Mongolia, Manchooria, Thibet and Northern Asia. Some travelers have estimated the quantity of brick-tea used by the Tartars alone to be over 200,000,000 of pounds. They use it rather as a soup than as an infusion, mixing it with mutton fat and salt, swallowing leaves and all.
HOW TO MAKE A CUP OF GOOD TEA.
Perhaps it would be interesting to know how to make a good cup of tea.
When tea-leaves pass over into the cup, it is an absolute proof that the water used was not applied when boiling.
There is a good deal to say about the kind of water to be used. Water too hard makes a flavorless tea, water too soft too bitter a tea. If croton water, which is a slightly hard water, be kept on the boil too long, some of its alkaline salts will be precipitated, and good tea cannot be made from it.
This is better explained by the testimony of a learned English Professor, before the English Water Committee of Parliament, who was called upon to answer some five hundred questions in regard to the best water for domestic purposes. He said: "For my own table, I want moderately hard water; for my particular tea I get a slighter solution or infusion, and all the aroma. For my kitchen, I should require soft water, rain water if possible, then every thing comes out of the tea, bitter and all. The servants like it so, and it goes further."
In California, when you visit the principal Chinese merchants, they make tea in two teapots. After boiling water has been poured into the first teapot where there is a teaspoonful of tea, and no more to each person, it stays there three minutes, not longer, and is then poured into a second teapot, kept warm, and you drink this. It seems much weaker than our tea, but full of delicate aroma. Of course, it is used without sugar.
We generally drink our teas too strong. Not only is too much tea consumed, but we let it infuse too long.
There can be no second edition from the same draining. The second solution brings out the tannnin, which delicate tea-drinkers say is good to make ink or to dress skins with, but not to swallow.
Russia uses the best teas. A family in moderate circumstances pays $3 to $5 a pound for tea. They drink it in a tumbler, with sugar and a thin slice of lemon. We highly recommend this method.
The word chop is often used in conjunction with teas. In Chinese it means a brand or seal. Teas are mostly grown by small farmers in little lots. These are bought up by a merchant who mixes them, and sometimes prepares them afresh, giving them the peculiar mark or brand of a district. A chop, then, is the product of one single picking of many tea-growers' crops.
It would be very difficult to give the nature of the best tea on the market. In Oolongs, perhaps the Tong-lee chop is renowned for its excellence. One firm in New-York, famous for its very choice selection of goods, has for a number of years, regardless of cost, bought up the whole chop, and Tong-lee is the favorite potation of many of our dilletanti tea-drinkers. It commands, wholesale, a long price, almost 100 per cent. more than any other kind of tea.
In greens, Kum-lan ranks among the best.
Fashion has a great deal to do with tea, and caprice often rules. To prefer black to green tea was once thought a want of proper taste. The conflict between the black and green still wages, and honeymoons are sometimes less sympathetic from this cause. Fortunately Japan tea offers a middle course.
Last year the United States imported 22,000,000 pounds of green, and 11,000,000 pounds of Oolongs, 3,000,000 pounds of Congoos and Souchongs, and 10,110,110 pounds of Japanese tea.
One fearful mistake is to sweeten tea too freely. Said a dowager friend to us once, "Poor Mr. Jones! How much sugar he will put in that tea of mine, which I only use for special occasions. I have no doubt he is a clever gentleman; he seems well educated, but he puts too much sugar in his cup. Please don't bring him here any more. Such a person is capable of putting molasses on strawberries."