CLIPPER SHIPS and the GREAT TEA RACE of 1866

I hope you’ve had a chance to read my blog about THE JOHN COMPANY, formally known as the British East India Company, which led the trading of tea and other exotic goods from the Far East to Europe,  Great Britain and the New World. For more than 200 years the British East India Company dominated trading. No longer a commercial venture, more of a political one and a threat to the British government, the company became too powerful and was dissolved in 1834.

In order to control this vast empire, the East India Company, prior to 1834, maintained an impressive fleet of ships.  Built in India, these ships, known as “Indiamen”, were huge warships, not only carrying goods and passengers, but fitted out for war.  For what they did, sailing millions of miles and bringing millions of pounds of goods into port, they were exceptional.

Unloading tea crates on the East India docks. Early 1800s

Life on board, however, was quite harsh.  One story written by an officer tells what life was like on one of these “Indiamen”.  The voyage from London to China and back to England took thirteen months and two weeks. The cramped accommodations offered no privacy or room to move.  There was never enough water or fresh food and scurvy took the lives of many sailors and passengers.  Petty thefts occurred daily, with the accused being flogged or tied to the shrouds.  As bad as things were during the day, they were worse at night with no lamps or lanterns allowed.  Fire, shipwrecks and pirating were the biggest enemies of these mammoth ships.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, Maryland, a shipyard created a ship that was not only fast, but with a cargo hold big enough to carry a significant amount of freight.  These ships came to be known as Clipper Ships … “clip” was slang for run or fly quickly. The design of these vessels, with their massive sails, enabled them to “clip” over the waves at a great speed, which caused a sensation in the shipping industry.  Now ships could travel at speeds of up to 30 kilometers an hour … and traders could deliver goods faster and the freshest tea possible.  Clipper ships became the new force.

When the Company was dissolved in 1834, Great Britain introduced the Navigation Act, which meant anyone, including non-English companies, could bring goods into a British port.  Finally, there would be competition. The Indiamen ships continued to be in service, but the East India Company soon began to see a rise in competition from these Clipper Ships, which would render their slow ships obsolete.  Speed was now the name of the game.

The Tea Clipper, Serica. 1863

At first, the Company wasn’t worried about these little American ships.  The Indiamen had dominated the shipping industry for centuries.  But very quickly these fast, lightweight American ships began to cut into their trade and their profits.  Although the Clippers were transporting all sorts of cargo, it was “tea” that caused the most interest.  The American Clipper, Oriental, made an unprecedented trip from New York to Hong Kong in only 81 days … an unheard of time in 1850.  She was immediately offered the job of transporting 1650 tons of tea from Hong Kong to London, which she did in only 99 days.

The British shipbuilders immediately began building their own Clippers, producing more than 100 ships, five of which became the most famous of all.  At that point, the race was on!  The competitive spirit sprung into action immediately because whoever could bring tea to market first would gain a monetary incentive.  Crews began competing with each other, not only as a test of their sailing, but also how quickly and efficiently the tea could be loaded onto their ships . . . . because they couldn’t set sail from China until every tea chest was on board.

The image above outlines how to efficiently load crates of tea without wasting space. This illustration shows more than 12,000 chests of tea stowed below deck.

The Clipper ship races began in 1850 and lasted only 20 years, but while they did, they caused incredible excitement.  The ships would thunder down through the South China Sea and into the Indian Ocean, then race to round the southern-most tip of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. From there, it was north across the Atlantic, past the Azores, and through the English Channel into the Thames.  In the Thames, they would need to be towed by tugs to reach the docks.

The most famous race of all took place in 1866.  By then, the American ships had dropped out, leaving just the English clippers to bring tea to market.  The headline in the DAILY TELEGRAPH announced “The Great Tea Race of 1866” with the main competitors being the Fiery Cross, the Ariel, the Taeping, the Serica and the Taitsing.

On May 30th, they all left China within hours of each other.  Once the ships left the docks in China, telegrams would be sent from each check-in point en route to England.  The Suez Canal was still under construction so around the Cape of Good Hope they ran, taking over three months to reach the English Channel.  A distance of over 14,000 miles.  At times they came close enough to one another to actually see the crews on the competing ship.  The Fiery Cross had the lead only 20 days out, with the Taeping and Ariel falling two days behind and the Serica and the Taitsing a day behind them.  But the weather around the Cape of Good Hope evened things out.  It wasn’t long before all ships were within 24 hours of each other.  By the time they reached the Azores, they were all within sight of each other.

In addition to the bragging rights, the Captain and the crew would be rewarded for their hard work, earning up to sixpence per pound of tea.  So the incentive to win was great.  The British newspapers reported on the race almost daily.  With the changing weather, shifts in the wind and typhoons, except for the Taitsang, which had now fallen too far behind, the ships were staying neck-to-neck.  Eventually, the Taeping pulled out ahead and seemed to be the clear winner, but it was the Ariel to first spot the Cornish coast.  The last leg of the race was in sight.  But even as the Ariel was at full sail, the Taeping was closing in on her.  Both ships needed tugboats to get them down the Thames.

Crowds of people who had been following the race lined the docks, with merchants ready to be the first to announce their tea had arrived.  The Ariel was headed for the East India dock, while the Taeping was headed for the London dock.  With both ships being taken in tow at the same time going up the Thames, there was concern that the race would be a dead heat.  Knowing this, the owners of the Ariel and the Taeping agreed that whichever ship docked first would claim the prize, with no dispute between them.  Which ship would it be?

It was the Taeping who reached the dock first, with a mere 20 minute lead.  The Ariel was second and the Serica came in an hour later taking third place. No race before or since ever had a narrower margin between ships.  And in the spirit of goodwill, the crew of the Taeping shared the prize money equally with the Ariel.

The Great Tea Race of 1866 was the most famous tea race of all.  This was also the last year that  a bonus was paid for the first ship to arrive in London.  For although the ships were fast, the first cargo of tea from China had actually arrived two weeks earlier, in only 66 days, by a steamship, the Erl King.  This steamer was not part of the Clipper ship race, but the fact that it was faster than the Clippers changed the way tea was shipped from then on.  Although most of the Clipper ships remained in service for a few years, with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, which was not suitable for them, steamships now offered a more efficient and less expensive way of shipping tea and other cargo.

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References:  Homeofohm, Teamuse, Sweetteajunkie, Wikipedia, Smithsonian, Harvard Library, Gutenberg, South Bay Sail, Tea.Co.UK, Vahdam,
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DARJEELING

Before I became involved with tea, I have to admit I’d never heard of Darjeeling … not the tea, nor the place.  When, on the few occasions I bought tea, which was just scanning the boxes on the supermarket shelves and picking up a familiar brand name, or whatever was on sale, never would I buy a tea from a region or country, or even a particular type of tea.  That all changed, however, when I became immersed in TEA … its culture, its history, its variety and the passion which surrounds it.  And it began when I started visiting these countries which produce it.

One of the most memorable places I had the privilege to visit was Darjeeling in India.  Yes, Darjeeling is a tea, but it is also a place.  “The Land of the Thunderbolt” or Dorje-Ling is what it is called in Tibetan.  Situated in the northeast corner of India, high in the Himalayan mountains and bordered by Tibet, Butan and China, this is a place of magnificent beauty.  With its slightly acidic, but rich soil, abundant rainfall, high elevation and afternoon cloud cover, its no wonder that some of the best teas in the world are grown here.  Known as the “Champagne of Tea”, Darjeeling teas can command some very high price tags.

I’m sure the numbers have changed since I visited, but at that time there were approximately 80 tea gardens in the Darjeeling region.  They ranged in size from small family-run estates to large corporate-owned plantations.  I had the opportunity to visit quite a few estates at that time and was astounded at how each one was unique, with its own energy, and philosophy, notwithstanding the pride that comes from working with people who share a single passion.

Jayshree Tea Estate, Darjeeling

Of course, we were visitors from the United States who were interested in buying tea and, because of that, were treated as rock stars.  I won’t deny that.  But we were also able to experience the beauty of the land, the generosity and warmth of its people and the vibrancy of the area.

Strolling through any of the estates, the landscape is breathtakingly beautiful.  An undulating, almost rolling typography of tea bushes surround you, sloping down the terrain.  And the majesty of the snow-capped mountains in the distance is magical.

The work is difficult and the days are long for those who work in the tea industry.  With their nimble fingers, the tea pluckers are generally women, who go into the fields in the morning, some with little ones in tow.  Quite a few are armed with umbrellas, most wear “Wellies” on their feet and all have baskets strapped around their heads.  They work til noon, break for lunch, and then are back adeptly plucking two-leaves and a bud at the waist-high bushes until 5pm.  They wait on the dirt paths for the trucks to come and weigh their baskets, before they go home, hot and tired from a long day in the fields.

A very proud plantation worker displaying his commemorative buckle.

Men are most often in the fields, pruning, planting and tending to the tea plants, or in the laboratories and factories, weighing, withering, sorting and packaging the teas for market.  And children, for the most part, are in estate-provided schools.  Life as a plantation worker is not easy.  The pay is relatively small when you consider the selling price of the tea.  Although the plantations were started by the British, the plantations are now owned by Indians.  Housing is provided for the workers with each home having a garden plot to grow veggies.  In addition to their wage, workers receive a small allowance to purchase food and supplies.

The history of tea in this area goes back to the early 1800s when the East India Company lost its monopoly on the China tea trade.  The whole of Great Britain was, by now, addicted to tea, and the British government had to do something.  Desperately trying to establish tea gardens in the northern regions of India, the East India Company (aka the John Company),  with Camellia Sinensis seeds, started planting.  By 1866, there were 39 British-owned and operated tea gardens.  Following Indian Independence in 1947, the British began to sell their gardens to Indians and the Tea Act in 1953 regulated the industry.

Authentic Darjeeling tea is unique and cannot be grown or manufactured anywhere else in the world.  And now Darjeeling tea has a ‘Protected Geographical status’ within the European Union, USA and Australia.  As Roquefort is to cheese and Champagne is to wine, Darjeeling now is to tea. These products with their individual characteristics specific to the particular region in which they are produced have been awarded a certificate protecting them from exploitation.   Consumers knowing this can now be guaranteed that they are getting genuine Darjeeling. This helps in ensuring the production and sale of Darjeeling tea all over the world.  And to identify authentic Darjeelings, a logo was also created showing the profile of a woman holding two leaves and a bud.

To keep up with the changing marketplace, today you’ll find a lot of the tea estates have become organic, biodynamic and/or Fair Trade, with certifications from the Tea Board of India.  Whether you call them tea gardens, estates or plantations, here is the list for you of the currently operating tea estates.  Quite a few, are now offering “home stays”, tea tours and camping opportunities.  If you are interested in adventure travel and experiencing something other than the familiar, I couldn’t recommend a trip to Darjeeling more highly.  It’s an experience  you will never forget.

When I started tasting different teas, from different countries, and different regions within those countries, I was changed forever.  Although tea is the most popular beverage in the world, except for water, of course, it doesn’t stop at that.  With its unique terroir, Darjeelings have earned the name “The Champagne of Teas” for a reason.  With their medium body, identifiable muscatel flavor and hint of spice, they are exceptional.  And, I haven’t even touched on the nuances from the first flush to the autumnals.  From which estate, do I think grows the best tea?  You’ll just have to try them all yourself to find out.

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Darjeeling East:  Arya Tea Estate, Chongtong Tea Estate , Dhooteriah Tea Estate , Kalej Valley Tea Estate , Liza Hill Tea Estate , Lingia Tea Estate, Marybong Tea Estate , Mim Tea Estate, Darjeeling Mim, Orange Valley (Bloomfield Tea Estate) , Pussimbing Tea Estate , Risheehat Tea Estate, Rungmook / Cedars Tea Estate , Tumsong Tea Estate

Darjeeling West:  Badamtam Tea Estate, Bannockburn Tea Estate , Barnesbeg Tea Estate , Ging Tea Estate , Happy Valley Tea Estate, North Tukvar, Pandam Tea Estate , Phoobshering Tea Estate, Puttabong Tea Estate , Rangaroon Tea Estate, Rungneet Tea Estate, Singtom Tea Estate, Soom Tea Estate, Steinthal Tea Estate

Kurseong (North):  Ambootia Tea Garden, Balasun Tea Garden, Eden Vale Tea Garden, Dilaram Tea Garden, Margaret’s Hope Tea Garden, Moondakotee Tea Garde, Oaks Tea Garden, Ringtong Tea Garden, Springside Tea Garden

Kurseong South:  Castleton Tea Garden, Giddapahar Tea Garden, Goomtee Tea Garden, Jogmaya Tea Garden, Jungpana Tea Garden, Longview (High Lands) Tea Garden, Mahalderam Tea Garden, Makaibari Tea Garden, Mohan Majhua Tea Garden, Monteviot Tea Garden, Mullootar Tea Garden, Narbada Majhua Tea Garden, Nurbong Tea Garden, Rohini Tea Garden, Selim Hill Tea Garden, Seepoydhura Tea Garden, Sivitar Tea Garden, Tindharia Tea Garden

Mirik:  Gopaldhara Tea Estate, Ghayabaree and Millikthong Tea Estate, Okayti Tea Estate, Phuguri Tea Estate, Seeyok Tea Estate, Singbulli Tea Estate, Thurbo Tea Estate

Upper Fagu:  Avongrove Tea Garden, Chamong Tea Garden, Dhajea Tea Garden, Nagri Tea Garden, Nagri Farm Tea Garden, Selimbong Tea Garden, Sungma Tea Garden, Turzum Tea Garden, Teesta Valley Tea Garden, Tukdah Tea Garden, Upper Fagu Tea Garden

Teesta:  Ambiok (Hillton), Gielle Tea Garden, Glenburn Tea Garden, Kumai (Snow View) Tea Garden, Lopchu Peshok Tea Garden, Namring and upper Namring Tea Garden, Runglee Rungliot Tea Garden, Samebeong Tea Garden

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References:  Margaret’s Hope Estate, Makaibari Estate, Wikipedia, Tea Board of India, Intelligent Legal Protection, Inside Darjeeling, Darjeeling Tourism,

SOCCER …. Who Really Invented It?

Soccer (or Football as everyone else calls it) is the most beloved game in the world.  Turn on the television any weekend and you’ll see games being telecast from all over the world.  Do I play soccer?  No.  Have I ever played soccer?  No.  But , I’ve watched kids play soccer in empty lots, street corners and school yards in every country I’ve ever visited.  All it takes is a ball (or something resembling a ball) and you’ve got a game.  According to the Bleacher Report, soccer is played in 208 countries around the world, with a fan base of over 2 billion.

Scene from The English Game

Why am I writing about soccer?  Well, I’ve just finished watching the Netflix mini-series, THE ENGLISH GAME, created by Julian Fellowes (you’ll remember him as the creator of the incredibly successful Downton Abbey series).  It’s a very interesting and historically accurate series, based on people and events which actually occurred.  Of course, it does have its underlying, less interesting,  heart-tugging, soap opera-ish subplots … which was expected.  The series is a six-part drama which I don’t think can go any further than examining how soccer became Great Britain’s most popular sport.

The question I needed answering was “did Great Britain invent the sport?”  The simple answer is ‘no’.  Although Egypt, Japan, and Greece also had some form of ‘ball’ game, historians suggest that the game which comes closest to what we now call ‘soccer’ was first played by the Chinese.  It seems that “TEA” wasn’t the only thing invented in China 5000 years ago.  It appears that ‘soccer’ was too.  The Chinese game of Cuju, pronounced “chuk-ko” which means “kick the ball”, dates as far back as 2500 B.C.  So, as the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting under the wild tea tree in his garden boiling water, soccer was being played in the courtyard.

The game, which appears to have begun as a training exercise for soldiers, involved the soldiers kicking a small leather ball with their feet through an opening into a net.   At the request of the emperor, the soldiers began to form teams and compete against each other.  This game of Cuju became so popular that it spread from the army to the royal courts and then down to the people.  Because of its fast-growing popularity with people in every class, standardized rules of play had to be established.  The sport thrived for over 2,000 years, but, for some reason, began to fade away during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

How, then, did this ‘football’ game make its way to Great Britain?   We’ll never know exactly, but we do know the game spread from China to Japan.  In fact, records dating as far back as 611 A.D. mentions football-type games played between the two countries. The game then traveled from the Far East through the Middle East, as far south as Australia, and into Europe.  Somewhere around the 9th century, it appeared in England as a game known as “folk football”.   This game involved the whole town …  townsfolk would kick a pig’s bladder from one end of town to another, with opponent’s goals at either end of town.  The town’s folk took the game quite seriously, but eventually space restraints within the town and the violence that ensued caused the game to be banned, but not for long.

Over the years, schools began playing against one another.  The rules and regulations continued to evolve and by the 1800s, dedicated soccer clubs began to emerge in Britain.  Still not very well organized, it was pretty much an anything goes game.  Players often tripped each other and kicking an opponent in the shins occurred more often than not.

Fergus Suter, the first professional footballer.

It’s at this time that football was at a turning point.  Soccer’s popularity was growing and the working classes were loving the game.  The social elite had played the game as a hobby but the industrial workers had a different vision of the sport.  Mill towns started having their own rival teams –  Darwen, Accrington, Burnley Rovers, Blackburn Olympic, Clitheroe Central.

Enter a stonemason from Glasgow, Scotland, named Fergus Suter.  Fergus was the very first professional soccer player.  In 1878 he moved from Scotland to England to play for the Darwen team and is credited with changing the way the game was played.  The first player ever to be paid for playing soccer, Suter was paid a considerable amount of money, £10 every other week.  The average wage at that time for a mill worker was less than £2 a week.  Being paid to play football was highly controversial and seen as against the rules.  But Suter went on to win the Football Association cup not once but twice.

As Julian details in the series, the sport  was formalized with the formation of the Football Association in 1863.  What I love about any of the dramas Fellowes is involved with is his attention to detail.  From the set designs to the costumes and, of course, the characters.  Each character is portrayed accurately and honestly.  It’s a fascinating look at a simple game, loved passionately by everyone … from the working class to the aristocratic elite.

Soccer has continued to grow to be the most popular sport in the world.  Why?  Because all you need is a ball … and it can be played anywhere, on any surface … in a park, on the street where you live, on the beach or a schoolyard. You don’t need expensive equipment.  No racquets, no padding, no helmets or knee pads.  No fancy footwear or jerseys.  Rich or poor, male or female, everyone can play soccer.

Am I now a fan of Soccer?  Probably not, but when you watch something being done well, it certainly stirs up an interest in you to find out more about it.  Watching this mini-series certainly did it for me.  And I may actually watch an entire game now and then.  I’m not sure why soccer doesn’t have the same emotional connection to people here in the U.S., but it doesn’t.  Perhaps as the kids who are playing it now in grade school grow up with soccer, we will join the rest of the world.  One can only hope.

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References:  Ancient Pages, Live About, Town and Country, Cahiers Football, Digital Spy, Wikipedia, Lancs Live

DUNDEE CAKE

I know, I know … Fruit Cake, the most hated cake in the world!  I’ve heard all the jokes . . .

“only good as a door stop”
“found one in King Tut’s tomb and it was still edible”
… “advice is like fruit cake, something everyone gives, but no one wants
… “a cake made during the holidays that’s heavier than the oven it was baked in

but I LOVE fruit cake.  There I said it!  And this Scottish classic is one of my favorites.  Why?  Because it is made with sweet, thick orange marmalade, giving it a wonderful orangey flavor.  And to be an ‘authentic’ Dundee cake, the marmalade should be made with Seville oranges from Spain.  If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Seville, you can’t help but gaze in wonder at the over 40,000 orange trees which line the streets.  At times, the trees are bursting with so much fruit, the streets are just littered with these brightly-colored orbs.

Sometimes referred to as ‘bitter orange’, the Seville orange originated in China and was among the many foods and spices traded along the spice route.  These trees were eventually cultivated in Spain and Portugal around the 10th century.  Interestingly, these oranges aren’t really eaten in Spain.  More than 15,000 tons are shipped to Great Britain each year.

How did the oranges end up in Dundee, Scotland?  Because of a storm at sea!  A Spanish cargo ship carrying goods and produce crashed into the rugged coastline in Dundee.  Among the many goods on the ship were oranges.  The oranges were ruined and couldn’t be sold, but a local  merchant, James Keiller, bought the load at a discounted price.  Keiller already sold jams in his shop and incorporated the oranges, fruit, pith and peel, into the recipe.  Food historians say it was his mother, Janet Keiller, who then took the marmalade and used it in a fruit cake, now known as the Dundee cake.

Keiller was the first to successfully commercialize his brand of marmalade using these bitter oranges and is responsible for the popularity of Scotland’s sweet breakfast treat.  When the British Trademark Registry Act came into existence in 1876, Keiller’s Dundee Orange Marmalade was one of the first brands to be formally registered.  In the 1920s, Keiller’s was purchased by Crosse & Blackwell, a name with which most of us are familiar.  That company was then sold to another very familiar name in the jam and preserves industry, Robertson’s.

Other historians say the Dundee cake is attributed to Mary Queen of Scots in the 1500s who didn’t care for traditional fruit cakes with all the glacéd fruits and cherries.  To please the Queen, her royal baker then made a cake which only had raisins, almonds and the bitter Seville oranges.  But the timelines vary too much for me.  The Dundee cake is made with orange marmalade which seems to have been created 100 years after Mary Queen of Scots would have enjoyed it.  Although marmalade has  been around since Roman times, it was almost always made with quince and honey, as a way of preserving the fruit.  The name “marmalade” actually originates from the Portuguese word “marmelo” or quince.  Believed to be the first published recipe for orange marmalade was found in a cookbook written by Eliza Cholmondeley in 1677.

However this spice cake came to be, by the 19th century, the Dundee cake was served in tea rooms across Great Britain and was the dessert of choice for  Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II.  As with many ‘historical’ foods, an application has been filed by Dundee bakers for protected status for this spice cake with the EU.  The bakers’ hope is to keep this centuries old cake from becoming a cheap imitation of the original.  Let’s hope the rights are granted.

If you’re a fan of OUTLANDER, I’m sure Claire and Jamie would’ve eaten a few of these almond-studded Scottish fruit cakes during their time at Lallybroch.  I may not be a time traveler, but I am a fruit cake lover.  And, if you are too, I hope you have an opportunity to make and enjoy this classic fruit cake over the holidays.  Its perfect with a steaming hot cuppa!!

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References:  Walkers, Wikipedia, Food List, 196 flavors, IFoodTV, Daily Record, Scotsman Food and Drink, Andalucia
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BLUE WILLOW

Do you have any “Blue Willow” dinnerware in your cupboards, or maybe tucked away in the attic?  The “Blue Willow” pattern in dinnerware is one of the most popular patterns ever produced.  At one time, most every household in the U.K. and U.S. had a set.  Early on, it was used only for special occasions, but then as pieces were lost or broken, damaged or chipped, it ended up relegated to the kitchen cupboards.  I know, growing up, we had a set (and I still have a few cups and saucers in my attic).

This dinnerware was not delicate porcelain or bone china, but a more sturdy, mass produced ceramic ware, with an infinite number of pieces, from salt and pepper shakers and gravy boats, to butter dishes, creamers, pitchers, teapots, etc.  Today, Blue Willow dishware continues to be very popular, but now as a highly popular collectible … even Martha Stewart boasts of having a cupboard full of antique pieces.

Although called “Blue Willow”, this nostalgic dinnerware was not always made in ‘blue’, occasionally it was also made in red or brown.  I’m sure you’ve heard the term “blue plate special” typically used in diners to indicate a great meal for a low price.  Yup, Blue Willow was the plate!

I actually remember “dish night” at the movie theaters.  A very popular promotional event where movie theaters would give away a dish to get theater goers to come in on a slow night.  If you went to the movies often enough, it was possible to collect a complete set.  In the 1970s supermarkets used this same type of promotion with “Blue Willow”, giving away a different piece each week based upon how much money you spent.  Before long, you had the complete set.  Blue Willow wasn’t the only pattern given away.  Another very popular chinaware was various scenes from Currier & Ives, as well as Blue Liberty.

You may have pieces of Blue Willow and love the detailed Asian pattern, but do you know the romantic legend behind the design?  Simply put, it is the story of a beautiful daughter of a powerful Chinese Mandarin.  The daughter fell in love with her father’s clerk, but the father felt the young man was not worthy of his daughter and erected a fence to keep the two apart.  The young man came by boat and found the young woman on a bridge looking for him.  The couple escaped and settled on an island.  The father eventually found them and ordered the young man killed.  Upon hearing this, the young woman killed herself.  The gods, touched by their love and devotion, transformed the couple into doves and they flew off into the sunset. (The original legend follows.)

Neither the pottery, nor the design, however, was made in China.  The pottery originated in the UK in 1779 by Thomas Turner at the Caughley Pottery Works in Shropshire.  Turner, a creative artist, designer and engraver, took over the pottery factory in 1754 and made it into a well-respected manufacturer of fine china, specializing in finely detailed blue transferware on white plates.

Thomas Turner by Lemuel Francis Abbott, oil on canvas, circa 1790

This particular Chinese-inspired design was created by Thomas Minton on copper plate.  The original of which is on view at the Coalport China Museum in Shropshire.  The intricate image needed a romantic legend and so the story of the two star-crossed lovers was created.  The pottery became a huge success and wanted by everyone.  By the end of the 18th century, not only the Caughley Pottery Works made it, but several other English potteries.  Since that time, it has been determined that there have been over 400 manufacturers of Blue Willow worldwide … and still available today.  Take a look at Amazon!

If you have some of original English-made Blue Willow, it does command a hefty price at auction.  Weather you are buying or selling, turn the piece over and take a look at the potter’s mark or back stamp. There are many sites which will give you information on each mark, and if the piece is in good condition, with no chips or glazing, you may have yourself a little treasure.

~~ The Willow Legend ~~

There was once a Mandarin who had a beautiful daughter, Koong-se. He employed a secretary, Chang, who, while he was attending to his master’s accounts, fell in love with Koong-se, much to the anger of the Mandarin, who regarded the secretary as unworthy of his daughter.

The secretary was banished and a fence constructed around the gardens of the Mandarin’s estate so that Chang could not see his daughter and Koong-se could only walk in the gardens and to the water’s edge. One day a shell fitted with sails containing a poem, and a bead which Koong-se had given to Chang, floated to the water’s edge. Koong-se knew that her lover was not far away.

She was soon dismayed to learn that she had been betrothed to Ta-jin, a noble warrior Duke. She was full of despair when it was announced that her future husband, the noble Duke, was arriving, bearing a gift of jewels to celebrate his betrothal.

However, after the banquet, borrowing the robes of a servant, Chang passed through the guests unseen and came to Koong-se’s room. They embraced and vowed to run away together. The Mandarin, the Duke, the guests, and all the servants had drunk so much wine that the couple almost got away without detection, but Koong-se’s father saw her at the last minute and gave chase across the bridge.

The couple escaped and stayed with the maid that Koong-se’s father had dismissed for conspiring with the lovers. Koong-se had given the casket of jewels to Chang and the Mandarin, who was also a magistrate, swore that he would use the jewels as a pretext to execute Chang when he caught him.

One night the Mandarin’s spies reported that a man was hiding in a house by the river and the Mandarin’s guards raided the house. But Chang had jumped into the ragging torrent and Koong-se thought that he had drowned. Some days later the guards returned to search the house again. While Koong-se’s maid talked to them, Chang came by boat to the window and took Koong-se away to safety.

They settled on a distant island, and over the years Chang became famous for his writings. This was to prove his undoing. The Mandarin heard about him and sent guards to destroy him. Chang was put to the sword and Koong-se set fire to the house while she was still inside.

Thus they both perished and the gods, touched by their love, immortalised them as two doves, eternally flying together in the sky.

 

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References:  The Willow Collection, Home & Garden, Country Living, Simple Most, Food Notes, Wikipedia

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Not for “All the Tea in China” . . .

Who remembers this phrase?  “No way, no sir, not for all the Tea in China!”  That phrase was not to be challenged.  You meant ‘no’ and you were standing firm.

I believe the phrase began around the turn of the century.  China was the largest producer and exporter of the world’s most popular beverage and everyone knew it.  With more than 45 countries producing tea today, China still continues to produce more tea than any of the other tea-growing countries.  They have, however, dropped to No. 3 in exporting.  India, Kenya and Sri Lanka have taken over as the largest exporters of tea. These three countries alone produce the more popular CTC (crushed, torn, curled) grade of tea, which is blended and appears in your grocery stores as tea bags.  But apparently India, Kenya and Sri Lanka are producing too much black tea because now there appears to be a glut of tea in the marketplace and prices are falling.  It seems consumers (especially Millennials) are finally demanding higher-quality teas, green teas, oolongs and specialty teas.

Who is drinking all this tea?  According to Quartz, the biggest tea drinkers in the world live in Turkey!  Which is amazing to me.  I would definitely have thought it was the U.K.  Having been to Turkey, I did not notice an overwhelming tea-drinking culture.  Tea was served in restaurants, cafes, and always offered in upscale retail shops and tourist areas, but statistics don’t lie.  They report that each person in Turkey drinks, on average, 6.96 pounds of tea each year, whereas a U.K. tea drinker enjoys 4.83 pounds each year.  Could it be that in Turkey they use twice as much “tea” to make a cup?

So how much tea does the average American drink?  In 2014 AmFotolia cover man drinking teaericans enjoyed over 80 BILLION cups of tea!   But this research is also flawed, because Americans drink more ready-to-drink bottled tea than any other country, not to mention powdered tea-drink mixes. According to the Tea Market Report by the American Botanical Council tea-drinking Americans still prefer black tea –  84% drink black tea – while only 15% drink green and the remainder drink oolong, white, etc.

It’s almost impossible today to watch television and not see an advertisement for one bottled tea or another.  Lipton may be the leader in most ad dollars spent, but six years ago Snapple introduced an ad that had everyone talking about tea.  See if you remember this ……

The ready-to-drink, bottled tea market is huge today and negatively impacting the soft drink market.  Sales of carbonated soda beverages have dropped steadily for the past nine years as consumers are choosing healthier alternatives in a ready-to-drink beverage.  Chai concentrates are another way of enjoying convenient, prepared tea and are very popular.  Another fast growing segment of today’s tea drinking society is actually not tea at all, but herbal beverages.   (Yes, I know, everyone still calls it “tea”.)  The herbal ready-to-drink market is also growing rapidly, with the most popular herbs being chamomile, ginger, echinacea, mint, dandelion and valerian root.

Matcha-flavored KitKat Bars

Matcha-flavored KitKat Bars

But it’s not all about tea drinking.  When was the last time you went into CVS or Target and noticed all the ‘tea-related’ products.  Not only can you buy green tea concentrates and capsules to supplement your diet and help you lose weight, you can choose from a variety of green tea shampoos and conditioners.  Green teas and white teas are incorporated into soaps and body washes, face and body creams.  Have you tried green tea ice cream?  It has been around for years and is delicious!  How about Earl Grey-infused truffles?  Matcha-infused KitKat bars?  Not to mention Tea-smoked duck and Lapsang Souchong bbq sauce?

Green Tea Mint Julep

Green Tea Mint Julep

Mixologists in all the upscale hotels and restaurants are using tea concentrates in their cocktails.  Tea-tini anyone?  According to the Sterling Rice Group, a Boulder, Colorado-based communications firm, TEA is one of the top food trends this year.  Chefs everywhere are incorporating TEA into their recipes.  If you haven’t already, you’ll soon be seeing tea on menus in everything from appetizers to entrees.

There are cookbooks now dedicated to using “tea” as an integral part of the recipe.   CULINARY TEA by local chef Cynthia Gold is fabulous with over 150 recipes using “tea”.  TEA COOKBOOK by Tonia George is another great cookbook using whole leaf tea in its recipes.  Whether sweet or savory, tea is a versatile ingredient that can be used in many recipes …… and we haven’t even talked about how good it is for you!

So jump on the “tea trend” and enjoy your tea.  It’s not just about “All the Tea in China” anymore.  It’s tea anyway you can get it!

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Top 10 Tea Producing Countries

and the amount of tea they produce*

1. China = 1,000,130 tons  –  2. India  = 900,000 tons  –  3. Kenya = 303,000 tons
4. Sri Lanka = 295,000 tons  –  5. Turkey = 175,000 tons – 6. Indonesia = 157,000 tons
7. Vietnam  = 117,000 tons  –  8. Japan = 89,000 tons  –  9. Argentina = 69,000 tons
10. Iran = 84,000 tons

* These figures are lower than the overall high production of 2013.

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References:  World Tea News, Tea Market Report, Quartz, TEA USA

“China” enters Britain

It’s the late 1600’s and people are asking “What is this fine, white porcelain that is coming in from China on the tea boats?”  Crates of this porcelain is being offloaded from the ships and stacked on the piers.  But, what is it?  What is it for?  These crates would be stacked on the bottom of the hold in the ships to provide ballast as well as to provide a dry floor for the tea crates to sit on.

Dutch East India Company c.1620

Dutch East India Company c.1620

Although the Dutch East India Company did not import these items at that time, the ships’ captains realized their value to the newly-enamored, wealthy tea drinkers and began profiting from their sale on the black market.

As early as 1530, fine Chinese porcelain in the form of vases, figurines and bowls were given as gifts to the Aristocracy (and are still on display in various museums around the world).  Exotic items such as ostrich eggs, Turkish and Russian pottery, and Chinese porcelain were among Queen Mary’s and then Elizabeth’s most prized possessions.  The delicacy of fine Chinese porcelain was valued and appreciated over the rough, heavy British earthenware.

It was about this time that the word “Chinaware” was incorporated into the English language to describe these porcelain bowls, pots and cups.  By the 1700’s the demand for this fine porcelain had reached record numbers and the term “China” was being used by most people.  From the records of the Fleet Frigate, “205 chests of China and Japan ware and a great deal loose earthenware, was packed on board.”

In 1724 in “Tour Thru the Whole Island of Great Britain” Defoe wrote, “The Queen brought in the custom, as I may call it, of furnishing Houses with China-ware….piling their China upon the tops of cabinets, structures and every chimney piece.”  China-mania had begun!!

Painting by Arthur Devis, c. 1750

Painting by Arthur Devis, c. 1750

By the end of the 1700’s most of Europe had obtained a few pieces of this fine “China” and the practice of displaying these luxurious pieces came into play, hence the “China closet“.  Louis XIV was so enamored of this decorative tableware he ordered a complete set consisting of hundreds of pieces.

Although a few other colors were imported from China, it was the very popular blue and white porcelain bowls, pots and cups that were the most popular. The Dutch East India Company was now the sole importer for everything from the East, and as a result, all imports came through the ports in Holland. Dutch potters, observing the demand for these items, became inspired and began to create their own pottery, which became known as Delftware.  Colors, patterns and designs were copied directly from the Chinese, but slowly European images began to be used …. windmills, fish, swans, etc., and the first of new shapes took form. The best known was the creation of the “plate“.

English potters were desperate to create this fine white porcelain.  European potters had created a soft porcelain made with white clay and ground glass.  But how to create a hard porcelain that would stand up to the heat requirements of tea?  It was discovered that the ashes of calcined bones could act as a strengthening agent in the paste.  This then became known as fine “English porcelain” now identified as “bone China“.

Worcester porcelain teacup and saucer c.1700

Worcester porcelain teacup and saucer c.1700

The development of the pottery district in England came after bone China was perfected.  From Davenport to Spode to Minton to Wedgewood, most of the successful potters located in the area of Stoke-upon-Trent.

I’ve seen other blogs which credit Robert Adams as the inventor of the tea cup handle.  Unfortunately, I’ve never found any documentation to support that theory.  Handles on tea cups came into use as soon as the Chinese realized that Europeans drank their tea much hotter than they did and in larger ‘bowls’.  Handles started appearing on ‘tea bowls’ as early as the 1700’s.  It was quite common before then to simply pour the tea from the ‘tea bowl’ into the accompanying saucer to cool, and then to drink from that.  After tea cups had handles, it was deemed only the lower class would ever drink from the saucer.

Needless to say, “tea” and “tea equipage” at this point in history was only for the upper classes.  A London magazine in 1744 noted, “it could cost more to maintain a fashionable tea table, with its expensive tea and utensils, than to keep two children and a nurse.” Despite this expense, tea continued to play an essential role in the social life of the British and the world.
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References:  Antique English Pottery, TEA East and West by Rupert Faulkner, Comparative Arts & Media Studies, Specialization in Design Culturesby Irene Maldini

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