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Tea Drinking in Other Lands

Tea Drinking in Other Lands

While tea-drinking outside of Japan and China is not attended with any “high-days and holidays,” still there are countries where it is just as important element of the daily life of its people as it is in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Among the Burmese a newly-married couple, to insure a happy life, exchange a mixture of tea-leaves steeped in oil.

In Bokhara, every man carries a small bag of tea about with him. When he is thirsty he hands a certain quantity over to the booth-keeper, who makes the beverage for him. The Bokhariot, who is a confirmed tea-slave, finds it just as hard to pass a tea-booth without indulging in the herb as our own inebriates do to go by a corner cafe. His breakfast beverage is Schitschaj –tea in which bread is soaked and flavored with milk, cream, or mutton fat. During the daytime he drinks green tea with cakes of flour and mutton suet. It is considered a gross breach of manners to cool the hot tea by blowing the breath. This is overcome by supporting the right elbow in the left hand and giving an easy, graceful, circular movement to the cup. The time it takes for each kind of tea to draw is calculated to a second. When the can is emptied it is passed around among the company for each tea-drinker to take up as many leaves as can be held between the thumb and finger; the leaves being considered a special dainty.

An English traveler once journeying through Asiatic Russia was obliged to claim the hospitality of a family of Buratsky Arabs. At mealtime the mistress of the tent placed a large kettle on the fire, wiped it carefully with a horse’s tail, filled it with water, threw in some coarse tea and a little salt. When this was nearly boiled she stirred the mixture with a brass ladle until the liquor became very brown, when she poured it into another vessel. Cleaning the kettle as before, the woman set it again on the fire to fry a paste of meal and fresh butter. Upon this she poured the tea and some thick cream, stirred it, and after a time the whole. Was taken off the fire and set aside to cool. Half-pint mugs were handed around and the tea ladled into them: the result, a pasty tea forming meat and drink, satisfying both hunger and thirst.

M. Vámbéry says: “The picture of a newly encamped caravan in the summer months, on the steppes of Central Asia, is a truly interesting one. While the camels in the distance, but still in sight, graze greedily, or crush the juicy thistles, the travelers, even to the poorest among them, sit with their tea-cups in their hands and eagerly sip the costly beverage. It is nothing more than a greenish warm water, innocent of sugar, and often decidedly turbid; still, human art has discovered no food, invented no nectar, which is so grateful, so refreshing, in the desert as this unpretending drink. I have still a vivid recollection of its wonderful effects. As I sipped the first drops, a soft fire filled my veins, a fire which enlivened without intoxicating. The later draughts affected both heart and head; the eye became peculiarly bright and began to glow. In such moments I felt an indescribable rapture and sense of comfort. My companions sunk in sleep; I could keep myself awake and dream with open eyes!”

Tea is the national drink of Russia, and as indispensable an ingredient of the table there as bread or meat. It is taken at all hours of the day and night, and in all the grief’s of the Russian he flies to tea and vodka for mental refuge and consolation. Tea is drunk out of tumblers in Russia. In the homes of the wealthy these tumblers are held in silver holders like the sockets that hold our soda-water glasses. These holders are decorated, of course, with the Russian idea of art.

In every Russian town tea-houses flourish. In these public resorts a large glass of tea with plenty of sugar in it is served at what would cost, in our money, about two cents. Tea with lemon is so general that milk with the drink, over there, is considered a fad.

The Russians seem to like beverages that bite–set the teeth on edge, as it were.

The poor in Russia take a lump of sugar in their mouths and let the tea trickle through it. Traveling tea-peddlers, equipped with kettles wrapped up in towels to preserve the heat, and a row of glasses in leather pockets, furnish a glass of hot tea at any hour of the day or night.

The Russian samovar from the Greek “to boil itself” is a graceful dome-topped brass urn with a cylinder two or three inches in diameter passing through it from top to bottom. The cylinder is filled with live coals, and keeps the water boiling hot. The Russian tea-pots are porcelain or earthen. Hot water to heat the pot is first put in and then poured out; dry tea is then put in, boiling water poured over it; after which the pot is placed on top of the samovar.

We all know about tea-drinking in England. It is not a very picturesque or interesting occasion, at best. To the traditional Englishman’s mind it means simply a quiet evening at home, attended by the papers, and serious conversations in which the head of the house deals out political and domestic wisdom until ten o’clock. During the day, tea-taking begins with breakfast and rounds up on the fashionable thoroughfares in the afternoon. Here one may see the Britishers at their best and worst. These places are called “tea-shops,” and in them one may acquire the latest hand-shake, the freshest tea and gossip, see the newest modes and millinery, meet and greet the whirl of the world. An interesting study of types, in contrasts and conditions of society, worth the price of a whole chest of choice tea.

We are pretty prosaic tea-drinkers in America. Is it because there is not enough “touch and go” about the drink, or that we are too busy to settle down to the quiet, comfort, and thoughtful tea-ways of our contemporaries? Wait until a few things are settled; when our kitchen queens do not leave us in the “gray of the morning,” and all of our daughters have obtained diplomas in the art and science of gastronomy.

However made or taken, tea at best or worst is a glorious drink. As a stimulant for the tired traveler and weary worker it is unique in its restful, retiring, soothing, and caressing qualities.

The Tea Table

Tho’ all unknown to Greek and Roman song,
The paler hyson and the dark souchong,
Tho’ black nor green the warbled praises share
Of knightly troubadour or gay trouvère,
Yet deem not thou, an alien quite to numbers,
That friend to prattle and that foe to slumbers,
Which Kian-Long, imperial poet, praised
So high that, cent per cent, its price was raised;
Which Pope himself would sometimes condescend
To place commodious at a couplet’s end;
Which the sweet Bard of Olney did not spurn,
Who loved the music of the “hissing urn.”
. . .
For the dear comforts of domestic tea
Are sung too well to stand in need of me
By Cowper and the Bard of Rimini;
Besides, I hold it as a special grace
When such a theme is old and commonplace.
The cheering luster of the new-stirr’d fire,
The mother’s summons to the dozing sire,
The whispers audible that oft intrude
On the forced silence of the younger brood,
The seniors’ converse, seldom over new,
Where quiet dwells and strange events are few,
The blooming daughter’s ever-ready smile,
So full of meaning and so void of guile.
And all the little mighty things that cheer
The closing day from quiet year to year,
I leave to those whom benignant fate
Or merit destines to the wedded state.
. . .
‘Tis woman still that makes or mars the man.
And so it is, the creature can beguile
The fairest faces of the readiest smile.
The third who comes the hyson to inhale,
If not a man, at least appears a male.
. . .
Last of the rout, and dogg’d with public cares,
The politician stumbles up the stairs;
Whose dusky soul nor beauty can illume,
Nor wine dispel his patriotic gloom.
In restless ire from guest to guest he goes,
And names us all among our country’s foes;
Swears ’tis a shame that we should drink our tea,
‘Till wrongs are righted and the nation free,
That priests and poets are a venal race,
Who preach for patronage and rhyme for place;
Declares that boys and girls should not be cooing.
When England’s hope is bankruptcy and ruin;
That wiser ’twere the coming wrath to fly,
And that old women should make haste to die.

Condensed from a poem published in Fraser’s Magazine, January, 1857, and ascribed to Hartley Coleridge.

Author | readingtealeaves Comments | 0 Date | 06/25/2016

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