Part 7: Health and Happiness


By James Norwood Pratt

The Tea News of the 1990’s was not that the Old Order changeth, it was that Tea is Good for Health, common knowledge in China since the time of Christ but now blessed, as if by Him, in the name of Science. Clinical research began to document various benefits from various teas and health-obsessed Americans obediently drank whatever the latest health bulletin prescribed. This started with green tea, the national drink in Japan where the earliest tea-related health research was done. As its cancer-preventing properties became known in the early 1990’s, America’s consumption of green tea soared. Ten years later the pattern was repeated with white tea, practically unheard of in the US until pop star Britney Spears divulged that her personal trainer recommended it as containing even more antioxidants than green tea. Since then, and not undeservedly, oolong has enjoyed a mini-boom among weight watchers and Pu-Er has won a reputation as something of a panacea. The largest single reason US tea sales climbed throughout the 1990’s was the constant barrage of proof of tea’s health benefits. Yet what began as health fads became permanent patterns in an over-all trend toward increased tea consumption. Health claims for tea were widely and effectively publicized in the popular press. In 1998, the Second International Scientific Symposium on Tea and Human Health sponsored by the Tea Council  of the USA together with numerous medical societies was held in the FDA auditorium in Washington, DC, and created such an impression it helped make research into tea and health a growth industry in itself—over 110 papers a year were produced between the Third Symposium in 2003 and the Fourth in 2007. This abundant scientific testimony helped immeasurably to make tea the drink of health-conscious Americans. Myriads kept hearing how good tea is for them and tried it, then stuck to it because they found it simply good. America’s new tea lover had arrived and green, white and the other teas had come to stay. Before 1990 it was pretentious even to speak of a US ”tea market” with its annual net under two billion at best. By 2000 that figure was five times bigger and worth discussing. But beyond any dollar value, our emerging Tea Renaissance also signified an enormous cultural shift as Americans turned to tea for reasons other than health. In tea many “took refuge,” as the Buddhists say, seeking respite from a society that demanded more and more from them and delivered less and less. Whether as a simple pleasure or as a spiritual refreshment, tea became a daily necessity for millions of Americans who have embraced, in varying degree, all the world’s various tea traditions, from Scottish scones in the afternoon to Japanese tea ceremonies, Russian samovars, China green and Pu-Er and Indian chai, to mention only the obvious. These new tea lovers owe no allegiance to any one way of tea. Moroccans drink only Moroccan tea, which is never served in Ostfriesland on the North Sea coast of Germany where one drinks Ostfriesen tea only, just as India only knows chai and so forth. America’s new tea lovers do not come to tea from any family or ethnic tradition but happily welcome all the world’s tea traditions and feel free to enjoy their various pleasures. It was to this new cultural breed that I dedicated my NEW Tea Lover’s Treasury at the end of 1999, the year of Tazo and Adagio.

Look for Part 8 coming November 5th.

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