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Introduction Of Tea, Coffee, And Chocolate
by [?]

It is said that the frozen Norwegians, on the first sight of roses, dared not touch what they conceived were trees budding with fire: and the natives of Virginia, the first time they seized on a quantity of gunpowder, which belonged to the English colony, sowed it for grain, expecting to reap a plentiful crop of combustion by the next harvest, to blow away the whole colony.

In our own recollection, strange imaginations impeded the first period of vaccination; when some families, terrified by the warning of a physician, conceived their race would end in a species of Minotaurs–

Semibovemque virum, semivirumque bovem.

We smile at the simplicity of the men of nature, for their mistaken notions at the first introduction among them of exotic novelties; and yet, even in civilised Europe, how long a time those whose profession or whose reputation regulates public opinion are influenced by vulgar prejudices, often disguised under the imposing form of science! and when their ludicrous absurdities and obstinate prejudices enter into the matters of history, it is then we discover that they were only imposing on themselves and on others.

It is hardly credible that on the first introduction of the Chinese leaf, which now affords our daily refreshment; or the American leaf, whose sedative fumes made it so long an universal favourite; or the Arabian berry, whose aroma exhilarates its European votaries; that the use of these harmless novelties should have spread consternation among the nations of Europe, and have been anathematised by the terrors and the fictions of some of the learned. Yet this seems to have happened. Patin, who wrote so furiously against the introduction of antimony, spread the same alarm at the use of tea, which he calls “l’impertinente nouveaute du siecle.” In Germany, Hanneman considered tea-dealers as immoral members of society, lying in wait for men’s purses and lives; and Dr. Duncan, in his Treatise on Hot Liquors, suspected that the virtues attributed to tea were merely to encourage the importation.[1]

Many virulent pamphlets were published against the use of this shrub, from various motives. In 1670, a Dutch writer says it was ridiculed in Holland under the name of hay-water. “The progress of this famous plant,” says an ingenious writer, “has been something like the progress of truth; suspected at first, though very palatable to those who had courage to taste it; resisted as it encroached; abused as its popularity seemed to spread; and establishing its triumph at last, in cheering the whole land from the palace to the cottage, only by the slow and resistless efforts of time and its own virtues.”[2]

The history of the Tea-shrub, by Dr. Lettsom, usually referred to on this subject, I consider little more than a plagiarism on Dr. Short’s learned and curious dissertation on Tea, 1730, 4to. Lettsom has superadded the solemn trifling of his moral and medical advice.

These now common beverages are all of recent origin in Europe; neither the ancients nor those of the middle ages tasted of this luxury. The first accounts we find of the use of this shrub are the casual notices of travellers, who seem to have tasted it, and sometimes not to have liked it: a Russian ambassador, in 1639, who resided at the court of the Mogul, declined accepting a large present of tea for the Czar, “as it would only encumber him with a commodity for which he had no use.” The appearance of “a black water” and an acrid taste seems not to have recommended it to the German Olearius in 1633. Dr. Short has recorded an anecdote of a stratagem of the Dutch in their second voyage to China, by which they at first obtained their tea without disbursing money; they carried from home great store of dried sage, and bartered it with the Chinese for tea, and received three or four pounds of tea for one of sage: but at length the Dutch could not export sufficient quantities of sage to supply their demand. This fact, however, proves how deeply the imagination is concerned with our palate; for the Chinese, affected by the exotic novelty, considered our sage to be more precious than their tea.