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How did Americans switch from drinking Chinese green tea to Indian black tea?


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I'm in one of my periodic fits of studying tea. This Monday, there will be a tea party in a park. In the tea party there are a bunch of tables run by different people who prepare different kinds of tea, and everyone walks around and tries them. I'm going to prepare Southern iced tea (while dressed in a seersucker suit and straw boater).  A while back, I was surprised to learn that Southern iced tea used to be entirely green tea, shipped from China by the swift Yankee clipper cargo ships.  Now, we drink black tea almost exclusively.  How did the change happen?


After a lot of searching, all the sites only give passing mention to the fact that WWII disrupted the supply.  I remember reading that Mao cut off the US from green tea in 1949, but haven't been able to find any confirmation.  Anyone know the details?

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Can't access it without my VPN, but have you checked out Victor Mair's true History of Tea: archive.org Might have something on it.

Looking for that found this link to an earlier book by Money, who says the green tea drunk in the US came from Java, and he wasn't too keen on the quality: The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Truth About America, by Edward Money.

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  • 2 months later...

Some primary sources, as quoted by Wikipedia and What's Cooking America:

"Iced Tea" from p.64 of the 1879 tome Housekeeping in Old Virginia, which specifies green tea, ice and sugar.

"Russian Tea" from p.112 of the 1888 edition of Mrs Lincoln's Boston Cook Book, does not specify green or black, just that it be sweetened iced tea.


What's Cooking America describes the apocryphal invention at the 1904 World's Fair in St Louis, but it also points to the 1928 cookbook by SR Dull, Southern Cooking, where it states on p.237:


A good blend and grade of black tea is the most popular for iced tea, while green and black are both used for hot.


Hence this preference in the South must have started before the end of the 1920s.


Some historiography from the Serious Eats team suggests that codification of sweet tea and Southern culture is a late 20th century phenomenon, citing the preference for the high grades of orange pekoe (橙白毫) of Ceylon black tea as dating from a 1987 cookbook by Egerton. The sweetness was not specified, but more recent decades seem to have cemented the attachment of high sweetness in the Souther psyche (with a sociological study conducted in the 90s adding regular church attendance into the mix of identities). But it is assumed to be black tea; the switch from green to black is mentioned briefly in its discussion of the colonial era:


It's hardly surprising that iced tea was slower to reach popularity in the South. Though hot tea had been consumed in the region since the colonial era, it was expensive compared to coffee, and therefore considered more of an upper-class beverage—it wasn't until British-owned plantations in eastern India and Ceylon eclipsed the Chinese green tea trade with inexpensive black tea that the drink became affordable. But an even bigger impediment to Southern iced tea was the availability of ice, or lack thereof.


The effect of World War II must have had some impact though, and a 2021 book Green with Milk and Sugar: When Japan Filled America's Tea Cups does talk a little bit about that. Although historically I see that there must have been an earlier preference in the South, I'd like to review the arguments put forward here in more detail later on!



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