Barbaric or not, Bob likes his tea sweet

Barbaric or not, Bob likes his tea sweet By Bob Karolevitz Every now and then when we take an afternoon break, Phyllis brews each of us a cup of tea.

Little do we realize that we are joining millions of others around the world who drink more tea � except just plain water � than any other beverage, including coffee, Coca- Cola, milk, bourbon or beer.

At first I didn't go for the tea break. Somewhere I got the idea that macho men don't drink the stuff, but Phyllis persisted and eventually I joined the tea and crumpets crowd. Unfortunately, though, I can't stand the brew without sugar.

It always reminds me of the time in Seattle when I was having a business lunch in an Oriental eatery with a local politician and a Chinese engineer. All was going well until teatime, and that's when I asked for the sugar.

Before I could ladle out a spoonful of the sweetener, the man from Shanghai dropped his chopsticks and said in all seriousness: "You, sir, are a barbarian!"

Well, Phyllis has been trying to break her in-house barbarian from the sugar habit ever since.

Tea, it seems, has been an international favorite since 2737 B.C. when � according to legend � leaves from a tea bush accidentally blew into a cup of boiling water which Chinese Emperor Shen Nung always drank. He sipped the amber liquid, liked the taste and tea-drinking � without sugar � got its start.

The Chinese called it Cha, although it was Tay in one dialect, which apparently was the origin of the name by which we now know it. For centuries it was mostly an Asian thing until Dutch traders brought it to Europe in the early 1600s.

By the middle of that century the British had adopted it, and Samuel Pepys wrote about it in his famous diary in 1660. Before that the East India Company had been chartered by Queen Elizabeth to import spices, indigo and silk from the Orient; it soon added tea to the monopoly it had been granted.

At the risk of telling you more than you ever wanted to know, I'll next shift the scene to the American colonies where tea-drinking � without sugar � was one of many English customs which came over with the Mayflower, the Pilgrims and other immigrants from the British Isles.

Parliament, in its dubious wisdom, began levying import taxes on various items the American colonists needed, like paper, paint, glass and tea. Before long, the expression "taxation without representation" became a rallying cry, and the tax on tea ultimately was one of the causes which led to the American Revolution.

On December 16, 1773, a band of angry men disguised as Indians boarded the three East India Company ships loaded with tea in the Boston Harbor, hacked open the chests of the aromatic leaves with their tomahawks and threw the hated cargo into the bay � without sugar. The Boston Tea Party helped inspire the eventual military revolt led by George Washington, who, incidentally, was a noted tea drinker.

There's lots more to the tea story, of course. For instance, Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, is credited with establishing the British afternoon tea in about 1840. In 1904 iced tea was "invented" at the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase World's Fair, the same year that a clever merchant sent out samples of tea in little silk packets which resulted in consumers demanding their tea packaged in tiny bags.

Tea plants can live for more than 3000 years. In Japan tea is treated with reverence. Thomas Jefferson liked his extra strong � without sugar � and hardening of the arteries is supposed to be lessened by tea as one of its medicinal characteristics.

Today there are now some 3,000 varieties or blends, including instant or powdered tea. As for me, I tend to favor Oolong, with sugar obviously.

After all, I still am a barbarian.

q2000 Robert F. Karolevitz

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