Presidential Tea Drinking

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Presidents’ Day is coming up soon, and it had me wondering about our nation’s great leaders and their tea drinking habits. Char was a big history buff and used to read endless books on our founding fathers. I remember her telling me that George Washington was a quite the tea fan. I was curious to learn more, and also see if other Presidents enjoyed our favorite beverage.

After a bit of research it appears that George Washington was definitely the biggest Presidential tea drinker. He drank 3 cups of tea every morning. George and Martha had many lovely tea sets and drank a range of teas. His first recorded presidential tea order was for six pounds of hyson tea, and six pounds of green tea. Other teas they are recorded to have during their time at Mount Vernon was: bohea, congou, green, gunpowder, and imperial. Many of these have old fashioned names we don’t use anymore. Here is an article that explains them a bit.

Tea events became popular with the First Ladies. Abigail Adams often held afternoon tea functions for her acquaintances, and Dolly Madison often took tea with every meal. At a local used bookshop Kat found a wonderful book called Tea With Presidential Families by Beulah Munshower Sommer & Pearl Dexter. In it she learned that Mrs. Madison had a tea room adjacent to her bedchamber! That’s my kind of house! The book has photos of teaware throughout our presidential history. It’s a hard book to find so if you ever see it in a shop, be sure to pick it up.

Did you know that President Theodore Roosevelt liked to add mint and lemon to his sweet black tea? Mrs. Roosevelt also frequently entertained with weekly social tea functions that were a coveted invitation.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt were also frequent tea drinkers. They were both raised taking afternoon tea, and Eleanor had so many tea events that she often had more than one in a day! Oh to be a teacup on that tea table!

President Lyndon B. Johnson loved his beverages so much he had four buttons installed in the oval office so he could order them when the mood struck. One of those buttons was of course for tea! He drank tea so frequently that the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson once wrote ‘How many things are launched under the name of a tea!’.

Our current Commander In Chief is also a known tea drinker! If you look at photos from interviews, he’ll often have a cup of tea in hand, or close by. President Obama is a huge fan of two bottled teas- a green tea and flavored black tea. There has been mention of his bottled tea habit in a few different newspaper articles. I often read the newspaper when Kat leaves us together on the kitchen table.

As a teacup, I feel so important knowing that tea and teaware are a significant part of our nation’s Presidential history! All you history buffs out there, do you know of any other interesting Presidential tea tidbits? Have you ever had tea with a President? I’d love to hear your stories!

Tea and Old Hollywood

As much as Char loved travelling the world, she equally loved an excursion to Hollywood. There was a small set of stars and starlets whose families had worked with or known Char’s father, and she always enjoyed catching up with them over a cup of tea.

One friend she always checked in on was the lovely Margarita Cansino. Rita would try to teach Char the latest dance steps, but the result was always a hopeless, riotous mess where they both ended up in a heap, laughing on the floor. (I was always tucked safely away in my carrying case!). For all the money Char’s father had invested in Rita’s father’s dance studio, Char most decidedly had two left feet.

Rita Hayworth

I remember one visit in particular when we visited Rita on her movie set. Her last name had been changed to Hayworth at that point, her mother’s maiden name. Char would often bring one of her latest tea favorites with her. On this trip, it was a particularly bold Irish Breakfast blend in honor of Rita’s Irish-English mother. As they exchanged stories of mutual acquaintances, her co-star joined us for a his usual afternoon cup of tea. Char froze and made a sort of high pitched squeak. Cary Grant! The George Clooney of yesteryear! She could hardly speak, and when she tried, she just stammered out sounds. Rita found it hilarious. Mr. Grant, gentleman that he was, instantly worked on breaking the spell by doing horrendous imitations of Rita’s former Brooklyn accent. Within minutes, they were chatting and laughing like old friends. He even commented that I was quite ‘the lovely tea cup.’ It was a nickname that I became rather attached to. I remember it like it was yesterday and often reminded Char of it.

That’s the lovely thing about tea, though. Whether you’re the most famous actor in the world or a poor soul without a nickel to your name, tea is a common and accessible luxury.

So, who will you join for tea today?  And who might show up unexpectedly? So many things can happen over tea!

*Rita Hayworth played opposite Cary Grant and Jean Arthur in the 1939 movie Only Angels Have Wings. 

American Tea Traditions

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Americans have been enjoying tea long before America gained its independence! And Americans have been enjoying iced tea longer than the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis when Richard Blechynden is reported to have added ice to the tea he was serving due to the extreme hot weather.

Tea was first introduced to the colonists by the Dutch East India Company in the second half of the 17th century. As tea was rising in popularity in the royal court of the Netherlands, the rising class of colonists, particularly in New Amsterdam (New York) wanted to replicate the beauty and charm of serving tea, by bringing out their best porcelain cups and tea pots, using their finest silver accompaniments, and showing off their gorgeous, ornate wooden tea caddies.

British rule brought in the more traditional practices of afternoon tea, though there are stories of unusual colonial tea presentations, such as boiled tea leaves, slathered in butter and served as a side dish. Hmm. Kat and I agree this may be a bit much for her taste…

After a bit of a roller coaster ride (Boston Tea Party, anyone?), tea made its way back into daily consumption. It is around the early-to-mid 1800’s, right before the Civil War, that iced tea is said to have made an appearance. I remember one particular trip with Char to Charleston to visit her old school chum, Betty Ann. Betty tut-tutted Mr. Blechynden’s claim, as she remembered her grandmother’s sweet tea being a summer staple years before the St. Louis World’s Fair.  She eventually conceded that Its popularity grew as a result of that World’s Fair in 1904. But regardless of how or when, the real “what” in a truly American Tea Tradition is Sweet Tea. This black tea and sugar combination is a Southern institution, and there are a multitude of variations, including recipes with alcohol!

Here is one of Kat’s favorite Sweet Tea Recipes, Sweet Ginger Peach Tea:

Ingredients:

6 Black Tea Bags (she likes Fresh and Easy Ginger Peach Flavored Black Tea), 2 cups boiling water, 1 cup sugar (or more, if you really have a sweet tooth), and 6 cups cold water.

Directions:

Steep the tea bags in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Pour the brewed tea into a 2 quart pitcher. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add cold water and chill until ready to serve. Pour over ice. And add a slice of peach, if you’re feeling a little fancy!

While many Americans enjoy their iced tea in tall glasses, I love that both Char and Kat always drank their iced tea from me. I kind of like that gentle clink of the ice!

What’s your favorite American Iced Tea Tradition?

Tea and Taxes – An American History

Tax day approaches in the United States, and with it I hear the discussions and rumblings of pros and cons on the subject amongst Kat and her friends. It can’t be denied that the American people have always had a lot to say about taxes.

Boston Harbor

One of the most blatant showings of emotion occurred during what we now call The Boston Tea Party. During this act of rebellion in December of 1773, nearly 200 men, all disguised as native Americans, boarded 3 ships owned by the East India Company. These ships had just arrived in the harbor and were waiting to have their cargo of tea unloaded. Over the course of 3 hours, more than 45 tons of tea were dumped into the Boston Harbor! By today’s standards, that’s more than $1 million! Good heavens!

What you might not know about the Boston Tea Party is:

  • The colonists were not protesting the tax on tea. In fact, the Tea Act reduced the taxes on tea significantly,  meaning that Americans would be paying less for tea than the British!
  • What pushed them past the boiling point was that not only did this legislation pass through Parliament without any input or consent of the colonists themselves, it was essentially a bail out for the East India Company that allowed them to essentially control all tea imports.
    • Problem: With tea imports being controlled by a British tea importer, colonist merchants (such as the famous John Hancock) would lose business.
  • The destruction of tea was widely criticized by the colonists, including George Washington himself, who held a deep respect for personal property. This was seen as a senseless act of vandalism.
    • Only one person was injured during the dumping of the tea into the harbor. John Crane was knocked unconscious, poor chap, by a falling tea chest, but awoke hours later. (Thank goodness!) The ship crews confirmed that no other injuries or damage occurred on board. Tea was the sole target.
  • While the colonists were not of one mind regarding this rebellious act, it was Britain’s response to the vandalism that united the colonists. Britain closed the Boston Harbor to all commerce until the damages were paid and took away self rule in Massachusetts, among other sanctions. These were collectively named the “Intolerable Acts” and ultimately led to the First Continental Congress and the Declaration of Independence.

Americans want their voices to be heard. They have opinions. Strong ones, at that! And I have my opinions, as well, dearies. I feel adamantly that it’s time for a friendly cup of tea!