Friday, March 13, 2009

Noble Tea

One of my students recently asked me whether I prefer coffee or tea and why. She was doing a survey to see if her hunch is right "that coffee or tea is found in the hands and on the lips of all great scholars." Bless her heart, she turned to me.

I have told you elsewhere that I began drinking coffee for strictly social reasons.

But since an early age I have viewed tea as a communion with my ancestors and a toast to the British Empire. By "tea," I mean real tea. Not the fruity, herbal stuff, but Camellia Sinensis that is processed then infused in boiling water.

Tea is a nobler drink. It is more delicate than coffee. The folks at Upton Tea Imports tell us, "Like fine wine, tea is debated, savored, and treasured for its almost endless variety of subtle flavors. Indeed, in terms of its complexity, variety, and worldwide appeal, tea could be called the 'non-alcoholic wine.'"

It seems to me that the vessel from which a drink is properly consumed is an indication of its recognized nobility. For example, properly speaking, wine ought to be served in an elegant crystal glass. Tea is served in small china cups. Anything else does it horrible violence. By contrast, it is perfectly respectable to drink coffee from a cardboard or Styrofoam cup. Stoneware at a diner is equally suitable. Joe don't care.

I admit that I am not a tea connoisseur, so I happily use tea bags, though I would prefer loose tea on principle, if for no other reason. (My Scottish grandfather called what they put in teabags "the sweepins off the floor," though he used it all the same.) But if fine loose tea is what you want, go to Upton Tea Imports is a thriving loose leaf tea business that began in Upton MA where I was living in the early 1990s.

I am the customer whom the owner describes in the article, "Tea Revives the World." I purchased the yellowed and crumbling poster pictured above, glued thoughtlessly to particleboard, at a yard sale in Hopedale, Massachusetts. To preserve this rare tribute to one of God's most universally enjoyed blessings, I had it properly framed. Alas, a year later, I needed money for seminary and hadn't the space for it in what would be my small dorm room. So I sold it to the man at Upton Tea Imports who kindly insisted on giving me whatever it had cost me. The article tells you all about the 1940 poster, and I am glad it is properly housed in a suitable setting.

June 6, 2010 -- a reader in a comment below notifies us that a fine copy of this map is preserved in the Tea Museum at Mariage Freres in Paris.

These pictures come from someone's posting on Flickr.


antoine said...


This is the most interresting map I ever seen !
I first saw it in Mauritius at the museum of Bois Cheri tea factory.

David C. Innes said...

Thank you Antoine. Perhaps Tom at Upton Tea Imports will read this, and get on the trail!

Anonymous said...

There is one at Mariage Frères Museum in Paris, according to this picture:

David C. Innes said...

Aha! This explains why Paris is such a popular travel destination. Thank you for passing along the link, Kris.

Anonymous said...

I am awaiting my copy (new at