This Day in History – December 16th, 1773

When it comes to hot caffeinated beverages the historical dichotomy is that coffee is popular in the United State of America and that tea is popular in the United Kingdom.

Flourish 3 The History of Coffee

Turkish CoffeeThe first reference to coffee in the English language is in the form chaona, dated to 1598 and understood to be a misprint of chaoua (equivalent, in the orthography of the time, to chaova). This term and “coffee” both derive from the Ottoman Turkish kahve, possibly by way of the Italian caffè. This in turn derives from the Arabic qahwah ( قهوة) This is traditionally held to have originally referred to a type of wine, whose etymology is given by Arab lexicographers as deriving from the verb qahā (قها, “to lack hunger”) in reference to the drink’s reputation as an appetite suppressant. It is sometimes alternatively traced to the Arabic “quwwa” (“power, energy”) or to Kaffa, a medieval kingdom in Ethiopia whence the plant was exported to Arabia. The name qahwah, however, is not used for the berry or plant (the products of the region), which are known in Arabic as bunn and Shoa as būn. Others with “equally little authority” even hold that the region was named after the drink. The word in Arabic is often translated as ‘wine, some kind of wine’ from the verb qahiya ‘to have no appetite’, but it is also connected to the Hebrew word qehε(h) ‘dark’ , and so the Arabic “wine” can be very dark (in color) like coffee. When one drinks coffee, one no longer feel hungry. The feminine form qahwah was chosen to mean ‘dark in color, dull(ing), dry, sour’. The assumed etymon Kaffa (Kefa), a name for part of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), the native home of the coffee bean, is not valid. Semitic had a root qhh ‘dark color’, which, since “coffee” is dark in color, became a natural designation for the “brew.” Metaphorically coffee (like wine) “blunted the teeth and appetite” just as bunn “the name of a plant” (originally) in Arabic, which, due to its dark color, came to designate the color “brown.” Qahwah originally means ‘the dark one’, that is, ‘bean’ or ‘brew’.

Coffee GoatsAccording to legend, ancestors of today’s Oromo people were believed to have been the first to recognize the energizing effect of the coffee plant, though no direct evidence has been found indicating where in Africa coffee grew or who among the native populations might have used it as a stimulant or even known about it, earlier than the 17th century. The story of Kaldi, the 9th-century Ethiopian goatherd who discovered coffee when noticed how excited his goats became after eating the beans from a coffee plant, did not appear in writing until 1671 and is probably apocryphal. The original domesticated coffee plant is said to have been from Harar in Ethiopia.

Other accounts attribute the discovery of coffee to Sheikh Omar. According to the ancient chronicle (preserved in the Abd-Al-Kadir manuscript), Omar, who was known for his ability to cure the sick through prayer, was once exiled from Mocha, Yemen to a desert cave near Ousab. Starving, Omar chewed berries from nearby shrubbery, but found them to be bitter. He tried roasting the seeds to improve the flavor, but they became hard. He then tried boiling them to soften the seed, which resulted in a fragrant brown liquid. Upon drinking the liquid Omar was revitalized and sustained for days. As stories of this “miracle drug” reached Mocha, Omar was asked to return and was made a saint. From Ethiopia, the coffee plant was introduced into the Arab World through Egypt and Yemen.

Flourish 3The History of Tea

Chinese TeaThe Chinese character for tea is , originally written as (pronounced tu, used as a word for a bitter herb), and acquired its current form during the Tang Dynasty as used in the eighth-century treatise on tea The Classic of Tea.[9][10][11] The word is pronounced differently in the various Chinese languages, such as chá in Mandarin, zo and dzo in Wu Chinese, and ta and te in Min Chinese. One suggestion is that the different pronunciations may have arisen from the different words for tea in ancient China, for example tu (荼) may have given rise to . Other words for tea included jia (, defined as “bitter tu” during the Han Dynasty), she (), ming () and chuan (). Most, such as Mandarin and Cantonese, pronounce it along the lines of cha, but Hokkien varieties along the Southern coast of China and in Southeast Asia pronounce it like teh. These two pronunciations have made their separate ways into other languages around the world:

  • Te is from the Amoy of southern Fujian province. It reached the West from the port of Xiamen (Amoy), once a major point of contact with Western European traders such as the Dutch, who spread it to Western Europe.
  • Cha is from the Cantonese chàh of Guangzhou (Canton) and the ports of Hong Kong and Macau, also major points of contact, especially with the Portuguese, who spread it to India in the 16th century. The Korean and Japanese pronunciations of cha, however, came not from Cantonese, rather they were borrowed into Korean and Japanese during earlier periods of Chinese history.

The widespread form chai comes from Persian چای chay. This derives from Mandarin chá, which passed overland to Central Asia and Persia, where it picked up the Persian grammatical suffix -yi before passing on to Russian, Arabic, Urdu, Turkish, etc.

English has all three forms: cha or char (both pronounced /ˈtʃɑː/), attested from the 16th century; tea, from the 17th; and chai, from the 20th.

Languages in more intense contact with Chinese, Sinospheric languages such as Vietnamese, Zhuang, Tibetan, Korean, and Japanese, may have borrowed their words for tea at an earlier time and from a different variety of Chinese, so-called Sino-Xenic pronunciations. Although normally pronounced as cha, Korean and Japanese also retain early pronunciations of ta and da. Japanese has different pronunciations for the word tea depending on when the pronunciations was first borrowed into the language: Ta comes from the Tang Dynasty court at Chang’an: that is, from Middle Chinese; da, however, comes from the earlier Southern Dynasties court at Nanjing, a place where the consonant was still voiced, as it is today in neighbouring Shanghainese zo. Vietnamese and Zhuang have southern cha-type pronunciations.

Tea plants are native to East and South Asia, and probably originated around the meeting points of the lands of north Burma and southwest China. Statistical cluster analysis, chromosome number, easy hybridization, and various types of intermediate hybrids and spontaneous polyploids indicate that likely a single place of origin exists for Camellia sinensis, an area including the northern part of Burma, and Yunnan and Sichuan provinces of China. Tea drinking likely began during the Shang Dynasty in China, when it was used for medicinal purposes. It is believed that, soon after, “for the first time, people began to boil tea leaves for consumption into a concentrated liquid without the addition of other leaves or herbs, thereby using tea as a bitter yet stimulating drink, rather than as a medicinal concoction.”

Tea InventionChinese legends attribute the invention of tea to Shennong in 2737 BC. A Chinese inventor was the first person to invent a tea shredder. The first recorded drinking of tea is in China, with the earliest records of tea consumption dating to the 10th century BC. Another early credible record of tea drinking dates to the third century AD, in a medical text by Hua Tuo, who stated, “to drink bitter t’u constantly makes one think better.” Another early reference to tea is found in a letter written by the Qin Dynasty general Liu Kun. It was already a common drink during the Qin Dynasty (third century BC) and became widely popular during the Tang Dynasty, when it was spread to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. In India, it has been drunk for medicinal purposes for a long but uncertain period, but apart from the Himalayan region seems not to have been used as a beverage until the British introduced Chinese tea there.

Robert Fortune

Robert Fortune

The first European to successfully transplant tea to the Himalayas, Robert Fortune, was sent by the East India Company on a mission to China in 1848 to bring the tea plant back to Great Britain. He began his journey in high secrecy as his mission occurred in the lull between the Anglo-Chinese First Opium War (1839–1842) and Second Opium War (1856–1860), at a time when westerners were not held in high regard.

Tea was introduced into India by the British, in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on it. The British brought Chinese seeds into Northeast India, but the plants failed; they later discovered that a different variety of tea was endemic to Assam and the northeast region of India and that it was used by local tribes. Using the Chinese planting and cultivation techniques, the British launched a tea industry by offering land in Assam to any European who agreed to cultivate it for export. Tea was originally consumed only by anglicized Indians; it became widely popular in India in the 1950s because of a successful advertising campaign by the India Tea Board.

Flourish 3Coffee or Tea?

The North America preference for coffee runs so deep that on December 16th, 1773 members of the Sons of Liberty disguised as Mohawk Indians dump hundreds of crates of tea into Boston harbor . . . so disgusted with tea were they, that they even declared independence and started a revolution in order to become a nation of coffee drinkers . . . and something about “taxation without representation.”


Flourish 3

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