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“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” (also in the “The Sayings of Dr. Bushwhacker and Other Learned Men”) by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 1-7.



A Talk About Tea.

“S IR,” said our learned friend, Dr. Bushwhacker, “we are indebted to China for the four principal blessings we enjoy. Tea came from China, the compass came from China, printing came from China, and gunpowder came from China — thank God! China, sir, is an old country, a very old country. There is one word, sir, we got from China, that is oftener in the mouths of American people than any other word in the language. It is cash, sir, cash! That we derive from the Chinese. It is the name, sir, of the small brass coin they use, the coin with a square hole in the middle. And then look at our Franklin; he drew the lightning from 2 the skies with his kite; but who invented the kite, sir. The long-tailed Chinaman, sir. Franklin had no invention; he never would have invented a kite or a printing-press. But he could use them, sir, to the best possible advantage, sir; he had no genius, sir, but he had remarkable talent and industry. Then, sir, we get our umbrella from China; the first man that carried an umbrella, in London, in Queen Anne’s reign, was followed by a mob. That is only one hundred and fifty years ago. We get the art of making porcelain from China. Our ladies must thank the Celestials for their tea-pots. Queen Elizabeth never saw a tea-pot in her life. In 1664, the East India company bought two pounds two ounces of tea as a present for his majesty, King Charles the Second. In 1667, they imported one hundred pounds of tea. Then, sir, rose the reign of scandal — Queen Scandal, sir! Then sir, rose the intolerable race of waspish spinsters who sting reputations and defame humanity over their dyspeptic cups. Then, sir, the astringent principle of the herb was communicated to the heart, and domestic troubles were brewed and fomented over the tea-table. Then, sir, the age of chivalry was over, and women grew acrid and bitter; then, sir, the first temperance society was founded, and high duties were laid upon wines, and in consequence they distilled whiskey instead, which made matters a great deal better, of course; and all the abominations, all the difficulties of domestic life, all the curses of living in a country village; the intolerant canvassing of character, 3 reputation, piety; the nasty, mean, prying spirit; the uncharitable, defamatory, gossiping, tale bearing, whispering, unwomanly, unchristianlike behavior of those who set themselves up for patterns over their vile decoctions, sir, arose with the introduction of tea. Yes, sir; when the wine-cup gave place to the tea-cup, then the devil, sir reached his culminating point. The curiosity of Eve was bad enough; but, sir, when Eve’s curiosity becomes sharpened by turgid tonics, and scandal is added to inquisitiveness, and innuendo supplies the place of truth, and an imperfect digestion is the pilot instead of charity; then, sir, we must expect to see human nature vilified, and levity condemned, and good fellowship condemned, and all good men, from Washington down, damned by Miss Tittle, and Miss Tattle, and the Widow Blackleg, and the whole host of tea-drinking conspirators against social enjoyment.” Here Dr. Bushwhacker grew purple with eloquence and indignation. We ventured to remark that he had spoken of tea “as a blessing” at first. “Yes, sir,” responded Dr. Bushwhacker, shaking his bushy head, “that reminds one of Doctor Pangloss. Yes, sir, it is a blessing, but like all other blessings it must be used temperately, or else it is a curse! China, sir,” continued the Doctor, dropping the oratorical, and taking up the historical, “China, sir, knows nothing of perspective, but she is great in pigments. Indian ink, sir, is Chinese, so are vermilion and indigo; the malleable properties of gold, sir, 4 were first discovered by this extraordinary people; we must thank them for our gold leaf. Gold is not a pigment, but roast pig is, and Charles Lamb says the origin of roast pig is Chinese; the beautiful fabric we call silk, sir, came from the Flowery Nation, so did embroidery, so did the game of chess, so did fans. In fact, sir, it is difficult to say what we have not derived from the Chinese. Cotton, sir, is our great staple, but they wove and spun long staple and short staple, yellow cotton and white cotton before Columbus sailed out of the port of Palos in the Santa Maria.”

“But, Doctor, we want a word with you about tea. A little information, if you please.”

The doctor is one of our old Knickerbockers. His big, bushy head is as familiar as the City Hall. He belongs to the “God bless you my dear young friend” school! He is as full of knowledge as an egg is full of meat. He knows more about China than the Emperor of the celestial people.

“Tea, my young friend, is a plant that grows in China, Japan, and other parts of the world. There are two varieties. Thea nigra and Thea viridis — black tea and green tea. The same plant, sir, produces both kinds. Green tea is made by one kind of manipulation, black tea by another. That is all, sir. The shrub is raised from seeds like hazel nuts, planted in nurseries; it is set out when about a foot high; lives for fifteen or twenty years, grows sometimes as tall as General Scott and 5 sometimes as small as Bill Seward. It is picked four times a year. The first picking is the best, when the leaves are covered with a whitish down. This is in April, the next is in May, the next in July, the last in August. One Chinaman can pick about thirteen pounds of leaves per day, for which he will receive sixty cash, or six cents. The green leaves are spread out on bamboo frames to dry a little, the yellow and old defective leaves are picked out, then they take up a handful of the leaves, cast them into a heated pan, get them warmed up, and squeeze out the superfluous juice; this juice contains an acrid oil, so acrid as to irritate the hands of the workman. Good God! think of that, sir, what stuff for the stomach. Then they dry them slightly in the sun, then every separate leaf is rolled up into a little ball like a shot, then they throw these green tea shot into a pan slightly heated, stirring them up so as to warm every part alike; then they cool the tea, and the shot are picked out one by one, the best for the first or finest chop. Every little ball picked over by hand. Then it is packed, sir. The young leaves make the ‘Young Hyson,’ the older and stronger leaves the ‘Hyson,’ the refuse goes by the name of ‘Hyson Skin,’ the ‘Gunpowder’ and ‘Imperial’ are teas rolled more carefully in rounder balls than the others. Most of these teas are colored for our market — colored, sir, with a mixture of Prussian blue and gypsum; no wonder John Chinaman calls us outside barbarians, when he knows we drink half a pound of gypsum and Prussian blue with every 6 hundred pounds of green tea, and this tea is made to order! Does honest John ever drink such tea? No, sir, he knows better than that if he does wear a tail.”

“And black tea, you say, is from the same plant, Doctor?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Robert Fortune brought specimens of the Thea nigra from the Bohea mountains and compared them with the Thea viridis, and the plants were identical. The black tea, sir, is prepared in a different manner from the other. The leaves are allowed to spread out on the bamboo trays for a considerable time; then they are thrown up into the air by the workman, tossed about, beat, patted, until they become soft or flaccid, then tossed in heaps, allowed to lie until they begin to change color, then they are tossed in a tea-pan, roasted over a hotter fire, rolled, shaken out, exposed to the air again, turned over, partially dried, put in the pan a second time for five minutes or so, then rolled, tossed over, and tumbled again, then put into a sieve, put over the fire again, rolled about, put over again, three or four times, then placed in a basket, thickly packed together; the Chinaman makes a hole through the mass of leaves with his hand to give vent to the smoke and steam; then over the fire they go, and remain there until they are perfectly dry — in fact, sir, until the fire dies out. Then picked, packed, and assorted for the market. Now, sir, here is the difference between black tea and green tea, the latter retains all its acrid properties, it produces nervous irritability, 7 sleeplessness, sir; why, if you take a pinch of green tea and chew it, sir, you can sit and listen to Dr. ——’s sermon and keep wide awake sir — a thing impossible to do under any other circumstances. But black tea has much of this oil dried out of it, and therefore it is less injurious than the other; less injurious. I say, not harmless by any means. Do you ever travel in the country? Well, sir, there you will see the ravages of green tea, Prussian blue, and gypsum among the fairest portion of creation — women! There, sir, you will see pinched-up, penurious, prying faces — faces made up of a complication of fine lines, as if all human sympathies had got into a tangle; necks all wrinkles; fingers, a beautiful exhibition of bones, ligaments, and tendons; eyes, sharp, restless, inquisitive; shoulders, drooping; bust, nowhere; viscera collapsed, and the muscular system, or the form divine generally, in a state of dubiety; yes, sir, and all this comes from the constant use of ‘Thea viridis,’ sir, green tea, sir. Our forefathers, sir, threw the tea overboard in Boston harbor; if people knew what we of the faculty know, sir, they would do the same thing now, sir, with every chop that comes from the celestial empire.”


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