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The leaves of a shrub or small tree of the genus Thea (Camellia of some authors), especially of T. bohea and T. viridis. The shrub is a native of China and Japan, but has been introduced, to some extent, in other countries. — Webster, 1882

Cold tea as a beverage for picnics is said to have no equal; but if people rise too late to make it, lemonade is a very good substitute. – Kingsbury County Independent, July 1894.

Teas are classed as green or black, according to their color or appearance, the kinds being distinguished also by various other characteristic differences, as of taste, odor, and the like. The color, flavor, and quality are said to be dependent, in a certain degree, upon the species of the plant from which the leaves are obtained, the T. viridis furnishing the finer green, and T. bohea the inferior green and black varieties; but the difference is chiefly owing to the treatment which the leaves receive after being gathered.

The leaves for green tea are heated or roasted slightly in shallow pans over a wood fire, almost immediately after being gathered, after which they are rolled with the hands upon a table, to free them from a portion of their moisture, and to twist them, and are then quickly dried. Those intended for black tea are spread out in the air for some time after being gathered, and then tossed about with the hands until they become soft, when they are roasted for a few minutes, and rolled, and having then been exposed to the air for a few hours in a soft and moist state, are finally dried slowly over a charcoal fire.

The operation of roasting and rolling is sometimes repeated several times, until the leaves have become of the proper color. The principal species of green tea are Tankay, the poorest kind; Hyson-skin, the refuse of Hyson; Hyson, and Gunpowder, fine varieties; and Young Hyson, a choice kind made from young leaves gathered early in the spring. Those of black tea are Bohea, the poorest kind; Congon; Souchon, one of the finest varieties; and Pekoe, a fine-flavored kind, made chiefly from young spring buds.

A Pot of Tea. Scald an earthen or china teapot. Put three tablespoons tea in the teapot, pour in two cups boiling water from tea kettle and let stand five minutes on the back of range. Strain, and serve immediately. — Fannie Merritt Farmer, Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1904), 78.

Cambric Tea. In The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder described cambric tea (see photo at left) as “hot water and milk, with only a taste of tea in it.” Another definition of cambric tea – minus the tea – can be found in Mary Hinman Abel’s Practical Sanitary and Economic Cooking Adapted to Persons of Moderate and Small Means, published by the American Public Health Association in 1890 (page 135): Milk, except for children, can hardly be looked upon as a drink, but diluted with hot water, and sweetened, it has already been christened for the children as cambric tea, and it is no bad drink for their elders.

Drinking Tea out of the Saucer. Tea had to be steeped in boiling water, and European earthen ware would often crack from the shock. The first tea cups were tea bowls imported from China, fired at temperatures high enough to withstand the shock of boiling water. These handle-less vessels were difficult to hold when hot, so a separate dish – or saucer – was used to sit beneath the bowl. It then became the fashion to pour the tea into the flatter saucer where the tea’s increased surface area exposed to air would hasten its cooling, and the tea was then sipped directly from the saucer.

Ginger Tea. Pour half a pint of boiling water on to a teaspoonful of ginger; add sugar and milk to the taste. — Catherine Esther Beecher, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book (New York: Harper, 1850), 292. Another period cookbook suggests sweetening with molasses instead of sugar.

“Down cellar in a teacup.” Charles Ingalls uses the expression not to indicate where provisions were stored, but as an invitation for guests to share what little there was.


tea (BW 9, 12; FB 2; BPC 25, 30, 34, 40-41; SSL 9, 18-21, 23, 25, 30; TLW 4-5, 7, 13-16, 18-19, 22-24, 26, 33; LTP 1, 4, 9, 19; THGY 3, 15, 21; PG)
     cambric tea (TLW 4, 18)
     drinking tea out of the saucer (FB 2, 23, 28)
     “down cellar in a teacup” (SSL 21; TLW 3, 20)
     ginger tea (TLW 9; THGY 8)
     teacup (SSL 10) – A small cup for drinking tea from.
     “tea is a man’s drink in cold weather” (SSL 21)
     tea kettle / tea-kettle / teakettle (BW 3; FB 5; BPC 35; SSL 21; TLW 4, 16, 22; THGY 2) – A vessel in which water for making tea is heated on the stove.
     teapot (LTP 1) – A vessel with a spout, in which tea is made, and from which it is poured into tea-cups.
     teapot, on jewel box (BPC 31, 38), see jewel box
     tea towel (THGY 33), see towel