"Tea, Its Mystery and History" by Samuel Phillips Day

"Tea, Its Mystery and History" by Samuel Phillips Day

Say what you want about life in the digital era, but don’t say that it hasn’t brought us a wealth of books in electronic form that previously were not readily available to most of us. Of course, that includes books about tea, a number of which we’ve taken a look at in these very pages. Today we turn our attention to a book that claims to examine the mysterious qualities of tea, whatever they might be.

It’s a topic that’s touched on in an 1878 volume called Tea, Its Mystery and History, by Samuel Phillips Day. The book also includes a preface by Lo Fong Loh, a Chinese scholar. Back in the day would-be readers could get their hands on a copy of this work for the price of one shilling. Nowadays we can all save our shillings and check out this free edition.

Day’s work is a relatively short tome, clocking in at less than 100 pages and focusing more on the history of tea than the mystery. After Mr. Loh’s preface, which mostly discusses his visit to a London tea merchant, Day kicks off the work with chapters on the Legendary Origin of the Plant and the Introduction of Tea into England, which he places at around 1652, in an amount “probably not exceeding a few pounds.”

Other chapters take a look at botanical aspects of the tea plant, the history of the tea trade (though the latter deals primarily with the tea trade in England) and The Colouring of the Leaf. This is a brief chapter that examines the rather insidious practice of coloring and adulterating tea leaves in the name of profit, something that was apparently quite common back in Day’s time.

In a chapter on the social character of tea, Day suggests that the beverage is particularly suitable to the English constitution and climate and notes that since the British began to drink it, “a marked improvement characterises the tone and manner of Society.” In the final chapter, A Cup of Tea, he sums what many of us feel is the key point about tea quite nicely, “what should mainly commend itself to our attention at the tea-table, is the quality of the infusion.”

Indeed.

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