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Chinese tea and the British Empire – part 1

tea time.jpg


The British love drinking tea, especially black tea. About 80% of the British people drink tea every day, tea consumption accounts for about 50% of all beverages in the UK, and the country leads the world in per capita tea consumption. Compared with China, where there's a history of tea drinking for thousands of years, the history of tea drinking in the UK is only about 300 years old. Why do the British love drinking tea? One of the most popular explanations is the fashion in the upper classes of British society in the 17th century.

英国人爱好饮茶,尤其是红茶。80%的英国人每天饮茶,茶叶消费量约占各种饮料总消费量的一半,饮茶的人均消费量占全球首位。英国人喝茶,只有约300年的历史,相比中国几千年的喝茶历史,不值一提。对于英国人为何爱喝茶,最普遍的解释是17世纪上流社会的风尚。


There was no tea in Europe until the mid-17th century. It was Catherine of Braganza that first introduced and popularized the tea drinking habit in the UK. The Portuguese royal family was keen on tea. When Catherine became the queen-consort of Charles II of England in 1662, she brought with her a casket of tea. Catherine’s fondness quickly made it fashionable and widely drunk in England, and first the ladies of the court and gradually those further removed from royal life developed a liking for the, at the time, elegant drink. However, without sugar, another food favored by the noble class, tea drinking would have lost its glory and became a transient fashion.

茶在欧洲实际上直到17世纪中叶才为人所知晓。最初是凯瑟琳-布拉甘萨推动了茶的声名远播。这位葡萄牙皇室成员十分喜爱这种经泡制而成的饮品。当她1662年嫁给英国国王查尔斯二世时,她带了一套茶具,茶便成为英国上流阶层的时髦饮品。不过,如果没有深受贵族阶层喜爱的另一种食物——糖的加入,它或许已经逐渐褪去光环,成为一种仅仅流行一时的短暂爱好了。


Britain didn’t produce tea, nor its colonies. They needed to import tea from China, and the time-consuming shipping resulted in a high cost. In this way, tea was sold at a whopping high price. A packet of Wuyi black tea that Catherine loved the most would cost as much as 25 pounds, and a pound could buy 7.32g of gold! Such a high price was unacceptable for some nobles and the emerging middle class, let alone the common people. There appeared a dilemma: how to drink tea as Catherine did and how to afford it? The servants settled the problem. Some servants from noble families bought the leftover tea leaves. They added milk and sugar to offset the spoiled flavor, and made tea drinking affordable for the common people.

英国本土不产茶,原先它的殖民地也不产茶,茶叶都需要从中国进口,漫长的海上运输,成本非常高昂,所以茶叶在英国的售价也贵得出奇。贵到什么地步呢?凯瑟琳爱喝的武夷山红茶卖到25英镑一小包,每镑可兑换纯金7.32克!这个价位对某些贵族和新兴中产阶级来说还能承受,普通百姓则买不起。既要模仿偶像喝茶,又买不起茶叶,怎么办呢?一些人从贵族家里购买喝剩下的茶叶渣儿,用茶叶渣儿冲泡,再兑上牛奶和糖来中和馊味儿,成为百姓的茶饮。


However, there is another explanation. In the early 16th century, the Europeans knew that Chinese loved the “bitter” leaves soaked in hot water. Prior to the British, the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French began to import tea leaves from China. Why did tea drinking fail to gain popularity in these countries, but took root in an isolated island country?

然而,这种解释并没有触及到根本。早在16世纪初,欧洲人就已经知道了中国用苦味叶子泡水喝。但是,葡萄牙人、西班牙人、荷兰人、法国人在英国人之前就进口中国茶叶,却都没有将喝茶形成流行风俗,为何会在一个偏远的岛国形成社会各阶层的大规模流行时尚?


As it is commonly known, the most important feature of drinking tea is that the water must be boiled. Although it’s a common sense practice today, the habit of boiling water plays an important role in keeping people healthy. Nowadays, we usually attribute the benefit of tea to its ingredients. However, when dating back to the ancients, we have to see another benefit that is often ignored in modern times. As water needs boiling before making tea, bacteria are killed, which in turn, reduces intestinal tract diseases and infectious diseases (dysentery and plague).


喝茶有一个最重要的特征,必须喝热的,也就是说,必须使用烧开的水。虽然这只是一个很简单的常识,但是,这一习惯对于人类的健康有着重要影响。我们现在讲茶叶对于健康的好处,往往都只说它的某些成分。然而,回到古代社会,我们还必须看到喝茶的另一个被今天的人们忽略的大好处。由于要使用烧开的热水,使得水里的细菌被大量消灭,大大减少了肠胃病的发生,传染病(主要是痢疾、血吸虫病、鼠疫等)大幅度减少。因此,喝茶的习惯,也是一种生活卫生的良好习惯。

2016-06-24

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