The arcana of the tea-cup

There is a lot to know about tea. Whether you consider the problem from the point of view of a historian, a connoisseur, or a member of the curiosi, the topic of tea offers a considerable library of references. This blog is part of the QM History of Tea Project, designed to re-examine, and re-think, the British approach to tea over the past 350 years. Our project’s bibliography of secondary works on tea history extends to over 200 books. There are hundreds more books on the current state of tea appreciation, including guides to tea purchasing and the different kinds of tea available. Medical researchers continue to explore the physiological and psychological effects of tea drinking: when I checked the number of tea-related articles in the electronic medical archive MEDLINE, I found there were no less than 35962. The most recent, when I looked one evening in February 2013, was on the ‘antioxidant activity of teas’, by a tea research group in Colombia, and was published in a journal called Food Chemistry (2013, Vol.138(1), pp.574-580)

This blog is not about that sort of knowledge. Our project has two major printed outputs: a scholarly edition of British writing about tea from the eighteenth century, and a narrative history of the British encounter with tea, which we are writing at present. This blog is part of our research and writing for the book. The thing is, we keep coming across really interesting, curious and plain weird bits of knowledge about tea and its history. And we’d like to share it with a wider audience. So, we are interested in the blog in exploring the dead ends of tea research: forgotten corners of the tea archive, missing memories of bohea, English misprisions of Chinese tea philosophy, and quirky anecdotes of history of tea. We are interested in how current tea knowledge came into being, but we are also interested in what stories have been left out of the tea history as we now know it. We will explore problems in the tea historiography: issues and questions we have discovered in writing our history of tea. We will narrate our experiments with early tea thinking. We will describe our encounters with tea as an actor agent in its own history.

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