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CUISINE: Tea anyone?
By NITISH S. RELE - editor@khaasbaat.com

If you thought that the British were pioneers of tea, you are mistaken. The Dutch were the premier tea drinkers of Europe in the early 1600s.

In fact, tea already had arrived in Portugal and France before the perfect cup began to shape four centuries of British history. "The British were very slow to discover tea," according to Roy Moxham in his book "Tea: Addiction, Exploitation and Empire."

But tea soon became a national obsession and tea gardens and tea shops sprang up everywhere in 17th century England. "They (coffee houses) were places for men to transact business and to discuss politics," writes Moxham. "At first they sold only coffee, but later added chocolate and tea. Where the first tea came from is not known, perhaps from the continent, perhaps from people returning from the east."

A former tea planter and gallery owner, Moxham is a conservator of the University of London Library and a teacher and associate fellow in the university's Institute of English Studies. In his well-researched book, he notes that when tea first reached Europe and America from China in the 17th century, it was more of a medicine than a beverage, its high price restricting its use to the wealthy.

Initially, the British government imposed a heavy tea tax, which led to murderous smuggling and eventually to the Boston Tea Party.

And when imports from China became too huge, the British started to grow opium to finance it, resulting in war and the British humiliation of China. The British then decided to grow tea in its own empire in India, Ceylon and finally Africa. Does he think tea will catch on in the United States as coffee did? "I think the possible health benefits of tea will definitely promote sales," says Moxham. "Caffeine addicts will need to get their fix from somewhere, and why not from the tea, which seems to be good for you as well."



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