A Thirst for Empire – T Ching

Tea has a rich and varied history, but you’d be surprised at what a HUGE impact it had on the modern world. The book, ‘Thirst for Empire’ focuses on how tea was developed from an obscure commodity only available to the rich to a driver for imperial expansion and mass marketing that affects us to this very day.

The book starts off just as tea was becoming an important commodity and its primary source being from China. To the British, this became the opportunity to use their vast trade networks to control distribution and later production of this product. But because it was relatively unknown to the common person, markets and demand needed to be created.

Tea itself was a new beverage that competed with existing industries at the time, and because it was foreign was seen as a threat by some. So between domestic habits (i.e. beer) that may have been impacted or distrust of foreign goods, there were plenty of early critics, as evidenced by a popular writer below:

“Tea was an idle custom; an absurd expense, tending to create fantastic desires, and bad habits, which must render us less happy or more miserable than we should otherwise be”.

The Feminine Aspect

Part of tea culture became associated with women, initially because, although tea was sold in coffee houses, many women of means didn’t enter those overwhelmingly male establishments. Twinings was one of the first to recognize this and created tea specific stores nearby aimed at women.

But apart from this, the book shows how the tea house movement exploded in London particularly, and became a huge business.

Temperance Movements and Processed Food

Tea became the obvious choice for the rise of temperance movements in the 19th century. Shunning alcohol, these societies created lavish tea parties to attract new members; and offered all sorts of breads, cakes, butter, cream, fruit, and sugar. In a roundabout way, these movements with tea at its core contributed to a change in eating habits and dramatic increase in the consumption of sugar.

Globalism and Free Trade

As the 18th and 19th centuries progressed, globalism and world trade increased. Tea and other commodities like it were a source of major tax revenue. And these policies created friction, eventually leading the North American colonies to thumb their noses at tea. The Boston Tea party was a result, which led to harsher punitive measures by the crown, which led to armed revolt.

There was a point where the entire British navy was funded by the tax on tea; and the rise of the East India Company, a massive multinational company with implicit state support reigned supreme.

Establishing Food Standards

Tea also led to such conflicts as the opium wars: With the British supplying opium to China to counter the trade surplus that occurred with China. Later on, India was found to have some great growing regions and a movement of pacification and exploitation to convert countryside into tea plantations took place. As a result, there was a push to encourage the purchase of tea from these imperially-controlled areas, and charges of adulteration (some of it being true) of Chinese tea along with racist stories (i.e. Chinese tea contains the sweat of dirty plantation workers) to convert more British consumers to drinking “empire” tea.

It was the adulteration of tea–such as using food coloring to change a green tea into black–that led to a series of standards for inspection and certification, which became some of the first food safety laws.

Spread and Decline of Empire

Tea was also thought of as a way to pacify and civilize British empire subjects, from India to Africa. It was thought of as a way to impose British standards of civilization upon their subjects, whether they liked it or not. It is interesting how India resisted tea at first, then made tea their own by spicing it up, going against British norms.

Eventually there were nationalistic movements to support the empire and to persuade people to only buy tea with EMPIRE tea logos on it. This was particularly emphasized in the beginning of the 20th century and during World War 1.

During the post-World War 1 depression, tea became the subject of commercial campaigns, with professional organizations funded by growers to market and advertise tea not only in Britain, but her colonies. Here we saw massive consumer relation campaigns with cartoon characters like “Mr. Pott” to push the mantra of “tea revives you.”

During World War 2, tea became a comfort while the world was in flames, with a cup of tea giving the British the ‘keep calm and carry on’ attitude during the Blitz and offering comforts of home to soldiers fighting thousands of miles from home.

The end of the book deals with the decline of tea after the war. With the British empire effectively dismantled, the United States was now the global superpower, and with it, American products and marketing flooded the world.

Where tea was a staple, the familiar Coca Cola signs sprung up. Mass market soft drink and, hip coffee bars all took a toll on tea consumption, as did the geopolitical disruptions in the former colonies affect production.


This book is a very detailed historic account of how the business of tea affected all aspects of the world socially, economically, and militarily. And while there are  enormous amounts of details to sift through, those who are fond of tea will especially appreciate the numerous side stories of this important beverage. Peppered throughout are photos, and the early marketing slogans and advertisements are especially interesting. A great addition to any library, and pairs well with tea! 


Blast From the Past: Flavoring Tea at Home with Home-Grown Herbals

There are very few truly gifted blenders that make me want to give blending a try.  I know my place and it isn’t my calling.  Finding the best tasting tea and herbals in the world for our business collection is.  I know a naturally gifted blender when I taste something that is truly magnificent.

But, let’s say I drop the standard a little and want to play around myself?  I’ve found growing herbs in containers is not only easy, it’s fun, and one of my favorite things to grow is mint.  Mint is hard to kill, which makes it ideal to grow.  Above is a container I stuck a couple tiny pieces of mint into just a short time ago–a few weeks it seems.  The photo shows the results.

If you’re a mint fanatic, you’ll probably already have lots of mint blends where the mint is quite dominant.  But for those who just want a ‘hint of mint’, or even a beautiful garnish for an iced tea, it’s so easy to snip a sprig and put it in some hot or iced tea (if you add honey, please use light honey with white and green tea and stronger, darker honey with black tea and put it in the hot infusion before you pour it over ice if you are doing iced tea, or you’ll get a mini lava lamp effect if it hits tea that’s really cold).  You can crush the leaf before adding for more flavor, or just leave it alone and let it add just a light minty note as it slowly infuses into the tea.

You can, of course, also add mint to other herbals.  Yerba Mate is great with a mint note, as is chamomile.  Rooibos is the perfect foil for a host of flavors including mint.  Mint is extremely cooling to the senses and very relaxing.

Experiment with adding other herbals than mint that you might already be growing in your yard, potted or not.  Rose petals, like this beautiful one in our side yard, are used by blenders in many tisane and tea blends…why not drop a few pinky petals into that white tea to add color and a hint of sweetness?  How about naturally dried strawberries (we’re growing these in a pot but have some in-ground as well).  Chrysanthemum, fennel, new fresh tips of cedar or pine… Be creative but be safe!  Here in Southern California, I have a huge, gnarly old pepper tree in my back yard and making my own chai might even be in the future; at least adding a few pepper berries off our tree to our delicious Spicy Chai just to add a ‘personal touch’. Or not.

Stressing safety again: Google is my ‘best friend’ when I have a question about ‘safe plants’, sites like WebMd, or just put ‘edible plants’ and/or ‘nonedible or dangerous plants’ in the search box.  That lovely pink oleander flower?  Uh uh…no go.

Have fun and make your own icy concoctions this summer!  Happy home blending!

Written by Diane Walden, originally posted in June 2016

Fermented Probiotic Rich Teas (tissanes)

I was quite interested when I read a piece in the India Times about probiotic teas.  Most of us are familiar with Kombucha, which has been growing in popularity over the last few years and uses Camellia Sinensis as its base. Probiotic-rich drinks and foods provide excellent health benefits to our microbiome which directly impacts our GI system and overall health.

I came across a delicious-sounding Mexican drink called Tepache Ginger Tea. Using ginger and pineapple, this probiotic-rich drink sounds too good to be true. My plan is to make some one of these weekends and give it a try. Here’s a recipe that I found which changed out the typical cane sugar with honey, adding another healthy ingredient. As I’ve come to learn, sugar is poison to the body so replacing it with honey is an exceptional idea.

Recipe Source

  • 1 large ripe organic* pineapple
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1-2 inches of ginger which should be peeled and grated
  • 2 tablespoons of the best honey that is available
  • 2 cups of filtered water

*Remember that organic ingredients are always best.

After thoroughly washing the pineapple, peel it leaving some pulp on the skin, and juice the remaining pulp. You can include the core into the brew. Fill a large glass jar with all of the ingredients. Stir well. Cover with a cloth and leave unrefrigerated for 2 days. You will notice some foam has formed on the top. Simply remove it and continue the fermentation for another day. Finally, stir, strain and refrigerate with a lid. Once chilled, enjoy this wildly healthy summertime beverage.

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Portable Tearoom – T Ching

The 2017 GRAMMY Awards gift bag is worth $30,000, including an $8,000 spa package. The organizer chose not to disclose this year’s value.

How are these swag bags distributed? They could not possibly be handed out right after the award ceremony, near the theatre exit, before the evening gown-clad attendees board the limousine to go home or after-party. Inside a gift lounge, every item is prominently displayed at its own booth where marketing representatives incessantly advertise and promote, hoping to obtain one more endorsement.

Last year, the OKAWA 1536 Project presented its version of portable tearoom MuJyoAn (無常庵) at the GRAMMY gift lounge. Only the OKAWA 1536 Lamp Shade, not an entire tearoom, was gifted to each recipient. MuJyoAn could be assembled in about an hour; no nail is necessary; some gentle hammering seems unavoidable. China’s Forbidden City employed building brackets called dougong (斗拱) in vast-scale structures that withstood 200 earthquakes through multiple dynasties, perfecting the interlocking technique!

Tearooms have been prefabricated, made portable, for centuries. In 1586, Japanese warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi dismantled, transported, and re-assembled his Golden Tea Room – the size of three tatami and consisting of gold ceilings and walls – at the Imperial Palace when he served the emperor a cup of tea.

Since T Ching published my post Backyard Teahouse in 2016, the State of California has relaxed some of its backyard building regulations in order to combat housing shortage and homelessness.

Main image from website. Preview image provided by author.

Zobo Tea – T Ching

I recently came across an article about a tea which is known as “Zobo” in Nigeria and apparently “Roselle” in other regions. For Americans, it’s a vibrant tisane know as Hibiscus. Earlier this year I returned to my second home in Southern Spain and much to my delight, I found a container of Hibiscus tea in the cabinet. I’ve always been drawn to the amazing color this tea produces but I’m reminded of the numerous health benefits that have been associated with this drink.

According to the article, Hibiscus Tea has the ability to “…treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, disturbances of the digestive and immune system, and inflammatory problems as well.” (Source)

It is always a bit frustrating when references are not listed to support health claims but it’s easy enough to google the information if you’re so inclined. If you are determined to drink it without sweeteners–which is always the best way to go–it takes a bit of time to adjust to the pungent flavor; which in a way is similar to unsweetened cranberry juice. Just imagine a warm summer’s day and a glass of this iced HIbiscus tea. Now that’s a thirst quencher.

Isn’t it wonderful that Mother Nature created so many medicinal plants to keep us healthy? Our great-grandmothers knew so many of these natural remedies which were lost when the pharmaceutical companies changed the course of healing from natural products to synthetic substitutes. With a focus on the most active compound, they left out hundreds of supportive phytochemicals that prevent any side effects and optimize the healing compounds of the complete plant. Today, with this new respect for the knowledge of the “Old wives tales”, we can return to the old healing traditions that have helped countless people around the globe. Ayurvedia is an excellent example of such an ancient healing tradition: Those interested in this system can always find pertinent information on Deepak Chopra’s website.

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Relax With Easy Summer Tea Cocktails

It’s summertime, and a good time to take a lighter approach to tea drinking. Iced tea is always a favorite, but tea can also be used in combination with alcoholic beverages to create unique, enjoyable, and TASTY summer cocktails. This article will focus on non-distilled beverages like wine as the alcohol source.  This is also ideal for cafes who want to offer interesting alternative cocktails without needing a liquor license. Plus, the alcohol levels are lower so that everyone can enjoy one or two without getting hammered. 

Planning a summer gathering? Mojitos are a nice summer cocktail, but if you have a lot of people, muddling the mint and preparing everything can be labor intensive.  The great thing about these tea cocktails is that they are easy to scale up in large quantities with minimal work. Plus, your guests will be blown away by the great taste, and the fact that tea is a major ingredient.

Regarding the alcohol,  most wine stores will carry small individual or half bottle sizes. You don’t need anything fancy. You can keep frozen lemonade concentrate on hand and use as much as you need. The recipes below are all single serving proportions, but just double or triple the amounts for how much you want. Garnishes like lemons, oranges, and mint are optional. When called for, simple syrup is a 50/50 sugar/water mixture.

Recipe #1: Tea Sangria

  • 1/3 cup tea – Blood Orange or other citrus tisane
  • 1/3 cup sparkling wine
  • 1/2 cup lemonade

Pour over ice and garnish with citrus.

Recipe #2: Pina Colada Punch

  • 3/4 cup tea – Pina Colada style fruit tisane
  • 1/2 cup Pinot grigio

Pour over ice.

Recipe #3 Blackberry Sage Noir


  • 1/2 cup Pinot Noir
  • 1/4 cup tea – Blackberry Sage tea or other dark berry flavored tea
  • 1/3 cup lemonade
  • 1 oz simple syrup

Pour over ice and garnish with berries.

Recipe #4: Cucumber Melon Sake

  • 1/4 cup sake
  • 1/2 cup Cucumber Melon Green tea or other melon flavored tea (lychee is another idea)
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • Squeeze juice from a slice of lemon

Combine all ingredients, and garnish with a cucumber slice.

Bonus: Alcohol-Free Recipe

  • 8 oz Lavender Raspberry Tea or other floral tea
  • 1/4 cup lemonade

Brew tea according to direction. Add lemonade, then slowly pour tea over ice. Top off with additional ice.

Images provided by author.

Tea’s Role in Shaping Health Conscious Americans

When I first became enamored with tea, I did what most newbies do – I explored the history of tea. Reading yesterday’s post, A Thirst For Empire, got me thinking about the role that tea is playing today in the 21st Century.

As a former Coca Cola addict–and I use that term clinically–I had often joked that if soda was my worst addiction, I was doing quite well indeed. Little did I know at that time that my four cans of Coke a day were very hazardous to my health. It was when I attended a conference of the American Herbalist Guild that I finally understood the dangers of soda. My personal introduction to tea was guided by my desire to eliminate soda from my diet and find something that was actually healthy for me to drink instead. A trip to Southeast Asia sealed the deal when I finally had my first cup of green tea that was properly brewed using high-end whole leaf tea leaves. The rest, as they say, is history!

Given my awareness of tea and my growing interest in green tea, I felt compelled to introduce Americans to this amazingly healthy brew. In my heart, I believed that if people could shift away from high-sugar beverages and come to appreciate and LOVE tea, it had the potential to have an impact on their health. I started T Ching in 2006 with a strong focus on the health benefits of tea. Much to my surprise, that didn’t sit well with tea aficionados at that time. They were very much turned off by the focus of health benefits and felt that the delicious taste and ritual of tea was what should be addressed. I disagreed. I believed that once people made the shift for health reasons, the taste and ritual would be the obvious next step in the progression for tea lovers.

Tea consumption has grown each and every year since 2006 and I believe the biggest driver has been the health benefits of tea. Over centuries, tea has played an important role in the culture of that time. I believe that’s happening now as well. As of 2016, supplement use in the U.S. became a 37 billion dollar industry. Tea is currently a 12.5 billion dollar industry and growing briskly. The general public “gets it”. They finally understand that we must each take responsibility for our health and wellness. We must manage our stress, engage in physical activity, and eat a healthy diet. Tea is an excellent part of a healthy diet.

It is most distressing to learn that our youngest citizens will be the first generation who aren’t expected to live as long as their parents. Our children are heavier than they’ve ever been and sicker than they’ve ever been. I believe there are 2 primary reasons for that:

  1. Decrease in physical activity. It used to be that kids went out to play after school, running around with their friends, maybe on their bikes or playing games that challenged them physically. Today’s kids are often found on their computers or smartphones. This decrease in physical activity takes a huge toll on general health.
  2. Increase in consumption of soda.  Go to any mall in the U.S. and you’ll see kids drinking soda. Next time you’re at a restaurant, check out what the kids are drinking. More than likely, it will be a soda. Health conscious parents encourage fruit juices which typically are full of added sugars and certainly without their pulp which plays an important role in how our body deals with the natural sugars in fruit. When I encourage young moms to introduce their little ones to tea, they become consumed with worry about caffeine. They are clearly missing the boat. A small cup of tea, lightly brewed, will have less caffeine than a few Hershey Kisses – and no one seems concerned about that! By encouraging a tea habit in our children, that will go a long way to ensure that they will become dedicated tea drinkers throughout their life. What child wouldn’t be interested in drinking a “grown up” hot beverage in tiny little cups?

I am proud to have been an early adopter, whose focus was on the health benefits of tea. I am delighted that tea is playing an important role in the critically important health and wellness movement that is sweeping the country and the globe. I believe consumers will be the ones to save our dysfunctional health care system by taking responsibility for their own health. With our focus on wellness, we can determine what each of us must do to increase the likelihood of abundant health.

If you’re a regular reader of T Ching, then you’re already aware of how terrific tea is. Make an effort to turn on your extended family and friends to this amazing beverage. The gift of health is the most important gift of all.

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The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – everything but tea!

On May 20, 2018, this tea drinker enthusiastically attended The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Oregon.  Sponsored by Opportunity Connections, this fundraiser was loads of fun for kids of all ages.

Opportunity Connections is a “private, non-profit organization that has been serving people in the Columbia Gorge since 1967.  We offer assistance for people with developmental disabilities to live as independently as possible while working and enjoying activities in their own communities.”  Several of the adults receiving services are former students of mine, and the opportunity to see them dressed in their finery at a beautiful historic hotel was too good to pass up, so I purchased a ticket and put it on my calendar a full month ahead of the date.  Certainly, I would have time to convince someone to go with me.

After the third friend turned me down (now I know how teen boys feel when Prom rolls around), I could not possibly handle another rejection and resigned myself to going alone.  First hurdle side-stepped and the second loomed: dress. What is it about a tea party that just screams out “girly dress”? Dresses and I have never been comfortable companions.  My ’50’s childhood had a weird dress code: little girls wore dresses to school until we developed a “waist,” at which time we could upgrade to separates – skirts and blouses or skirts and sweaters.  Hosiery was another milestone reserved for first communion or bat mitzvah (age 13). I never did develop a waist, a point of great consternation for my mother, meaning the benchmarks of my first communion, nylon stockings, and separates arrived on the same day; sealing my utter distaste for the dress.  I had to have one for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, however, and I found one online. Advertised as a “tea party dress,” I was set.

All dressed up and wearing sensible shoes, I arrived fashionably late and was seated at a table with the Mad Hatter, two fetching children, and their grandparents.  The dining room was festive with “Alice in Wonderland” decorations, place settings, and a lovely teacup at every place. Scores of children dressed to the nines scampered about, some in full costume.  I caught sight of several former students. A silent auction was held in one room, croquet outdoors, a free make-your-own-hat station in the foyer, and an impressive display of beautiful – if impractical – teapots.

Soon, a three-tiered serving tray of scones, biscuits, lemon tarts, chocolate-covered strawberries, and tiny sandwiches, – crusts cut off – arrived.  My very first tea party, with all the classic trappings, was about to begin. A server dressed like Alice herself brought around a pretty teapot and poured English Breakfast into my cup.  Not very hot, it was pleasant enough, and I drank six or seven cups as I watched the proceedings. I was most interested in what the children were drinking. The choice was simple – water or English Breakfast.  I walked around the dining room, hearing some variation of “Moooooom, I don’t like tea,” at least a dozen times. The adorable little girl at my table dumped her tea into a water glass, splashed some cream into her cup, and drank that.  (Her grandfather later reported that after two egg salad sandwiches, a lemon tart, and three chocolate covered strawberries, the cream in the cup made a hasty return trip.)

Although the afternoon was quite pleasant, I sensed a missed opportunity.  The goal of raising funds for a most worthy cause was realized by the large turnout, successful auctions, costume contest, and generous donations.  But why mediocre-quality English Breakfast tea for a largely under-ten-years old crowd? Why not jasmine pearls – a tea that most children like? A child’s first tea experience should be memorable – as this one certainly was – and leave the kiddos wanting to drink more tea.  Most of the children in attendance left thinking that tea is nasty, and many will carry that impression with them forever, refusing to experience the tremendous variety of good whole leaf tea.

If I can figure out a way to do so diplomatically, I hope to persuade the organizers to include quality and kid-friendly whole leaf tea next year.  Instead of tea being the afterthought of a splendid event, why not make it one of the features the children – and adults – look forward to? Ideas are welcome, readers, so bring them on!

All photos provided by author, photos of children used with permission.

Blast From the Past: Are tag lines poetry?

Poems of the 21st century can be quite different from prior centuries. I like to think of advertising taglines as a kind of poetry for this new millennium. With thanks to both the dairy council and Nike, I submit these tea gems for your delight.



Originally posted in June 2007, written by Michelle Rabin

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Summer Solstice and Foraging – T Ching

On the day that this is posted, it will be the day of the Summer Solstice: the longest day and shortest night of the year and generally considered to be the beginning of summer. Whereas normally I would have taken the day as a personal vacation day (and religious holiday) from work, I’ve only had my current job for four months so couldn’t easily take time off just yet. So to celebrate early, I donned my apron (useful for carrying things) and my husband and I wandered outdoors in the early evening at the end of a hot day.

Our property is forty acres of tree farm, about an hour’s drive outside of Portland. We decided to go out and see which edible plants we could find, as well as enjoy being together and in nature. One of the first things we spotted was an eastern cottontail. Then it was checking the tree line and next to the barn for plants. We found herb robert, daisies, and thistles. Finally we gathered some field horsetail, pineapple weed, wild carrot, and a single stalk of henbit.

Next we forayed (carefully) through the sheep field to the creek. I snipped off a couple blackberry flowers and a few leaves. We looked for agates in the water and I was grateful to be wearing my waterproof sandals because I was able to wander straight into the water. My husband pointed out raccoon tracks, and I found a couple bobcat prints in the soft mud right next to the water. All while discussing some of the various native composite fruit species (and how many of them I have sampled).

As it got later in the evening we headed back to the house. I did some quick research online to be sure of what plants we had gathered and how useful they might be to us. We decided that we wouldn’t use the horsetail because it can be a problem for people prone to potassium deficiency (such as myself), and double- and then triple-checked that we had, in fact, gathered wild carrot and NOT poison hemlock! We eventually decided on the pineapple weed.

Wild carrot, pineapple weed, henbit, and blackberry; all on my lace apron.

Pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) is also known as wild chamomile, and for good reason. It grows low to the ground and the flowers have no showy petals; yet the smell, flavor, and medicinal benefits are similar to that of its domestic relative German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla).

After snipping off the flowers, I washed them thoroughly. Then it was into the mesh strainer and boiling water poured over the top. The nice thing about tisanes is that for many there is no such thing as oversteeping, since they don’t contain tannins. Since we hadn’t harvested all that much, I let it steep for 15-20 minutes. A half spoonful of raw, local honey stirred in is just enough to enhance the flavor. A flavor which–in my opinion–is simply divine. The flowers smell incredibly sweet and fragrant, and that translates to the flavor and makes an amazing tisane. Not as floral as German chamomile, pineapple weed is sweeter and almost fruity. Many think that the aroma and flavor are reminiscent of pineapple, thus the name. I know that we will be harvesting more in the next few weeks, and drying it for future use.

For now, my husband and I shared that mug of tisane after dinner; to unwind at the very end of the day and quietly, peacefully, welcome the Summer.