COFFEE – TEA – or ?When one thinks of ‘national’ beverages stereotypes come quickly into mind.
Usually we associate Germany with beer, Russia with Vodka, France with wine, Ireland with whiskey and Great Britain with tea.
Obviously, the accuracy of these stereotypes depends upon your definition of beverage.
That grouping includes pure beverages (juices, water etc.), distilled beverages (whiskey, vodka, etc.), fermented beverages (beer, wine, etc.) and carbonated beverages (soda, etc.).
But what about America?
Do we have a ‘national’ beverage?
Worldwide, the most consumed liquid is, understandably, water, followed by Tea, with beer occupying third place.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that carbonated soft drinks are by far the leader in American consumption.
Checking in with an average yearly consumption of 44.7 gallons per person, soft drinks account for over twice the consumption of the next highest liquid - - MILK!
At about 21 gals per person, milk leads Beer at 20 gals p/p and coffee at 18.5 gals p/p. Tea comes in at a distant 6th place with only 10.3 gallons p/p.
Yet we persist in thinking of Americans as primarily coffee drinkers.
So let’s travel back in time to the early settlers and see what we find.
Both coffee and tea are relatively new, at least to the western world.
Shen Nung, China’s Second Emperor, first discovered tea in 2737 BC, but it didn’t make its way westward until 1610 when the Dutch brought tea to Europe from China, trading dried sage in exchange.
Coffee, on the other hand, is much younger. The earliest credible evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree appears when it was discovered by Kaldi, a 9th-century Ethiopian goat herder in 1671.
When Europeans first came to America as British colonists, their primary drink of choice was beer, not tea.
In the 17th century it was not safe to drink water, it was too dirty. Though the New World had plenty of fresh, unspoiled water, incautious Americans sickened and sometimes died by drinking from polluted sources.
Jamestown gentleman George Percy, relating the troubles of the settlement's early days, wrote that the colonists' drink was "cold water taken out of the River, which was, at low tide, full of slime and filth, which was the destruction of many of our men." In some cases, even when it was safe to drink, river water had so much mud that a bucket of it needed to sit long enough to allow suspended material to settle.
Native American tribes, however, had brewed beer in the lands of the United States prior to European arrival. Following suite, the first colonists were used corn to make an alcoholic drink. In Europe, where polluted waterways were an even bigger problem, people substituted alcohol, therefore it was an easy example for the colonists to follow.
The first commercial brewery opened in the United States at the Dutch West India Company of Lower Manhattan in 1632.
By 1790, United States government figures showed that annual per-capita alcohol consumption for everybody over fifteen amounted to thirty-four gallons of beer and cider, five gallons of distilled spirits, and one gallon of wine.
It wasn’t until the 18th century tea became popular.
Three exotic beverages—coffee, tea, and chocolate—arrived in seventeenth-century Europe at a time of burgeoning exploration and trade,
Chocolate was the most expensive with coffee coming in a close second. and both were difficult to come by and in scarce supply.
Colonial Americans quickly adopted the taste for these imported beverages, but since chocolate and coffee were so expensive and both were difficult to come by and in scarce supply, tea became the drink of choice pretty much by default.
Things went along smoothly until, in the 1760s, the British government began to impose a tax on tea, first through the Stamp Act of 1765 and later with the Townshend Act of 1767.
It is important to remember that colonists had long been protesting the taxes imposed by Great Britain, but not for the reasons we popularly give.
It was not the taxes, per se, which upset colonists; it was the fact that they had no say in how they were levied or upon whom. This would become the driving force behind the eventual Revolutionary war.
Taxation without representation, was the chief complaint.
Following the Stamp Act of 1765, dissatisfied colonists took to smuggling tea or drinking herbal infusions.
When the Townshend Act of 1767 was passed, outraged merchants, shippers, and colonists staged a number of demonstrations, culminating in the famous Boston Tea Party of December 1773.
Dumping the tea from the cargo ships in Boston Harbor was just a small part of the brewing civil uprising. Those British ships attempting to enter the harbor were turned back and blockades were set up to prevent incoming shipments.
At the time the East India Company was the oldest and most powerful among several similarly formed European East India Companies, holding a monopoly on importing tea.
Shares of the company were owned by wealthy merchants and aristocrats and by 1757 had come to rule large areas of India with its own private army, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions.
Because the East India Company traded not only in teas, but also was a primary supplier to the Colonies of cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, saltpeter and opium, the company believed they were invulnerable to boycott.
The colonies refused to pay the levies required by the Townsend Acts claiming they had no obligation to pay taxes imposed by a Parliament in which they had no representation.
At that exact point in time, the Revolutionary War could have been prevented, and the colonies maintained as a British possession, if Great Britain had simply met the demands for representation in Parliament for the colonies.
But, under pressure from the giant East India Company and its influential owners, Britain refused to hear the complaints of the colonists.
Even still, the East India Company might have kept their profits and Britain her taxes, but for two factors; the Colonists were determined to have a voice in their destiny, with or without England, and privateers were lurking, anxious to take over supplying the colonies with whatever goods they needed.
These privateers had little access to tea since the East India Company monopolized the crop, however, the chocolate and coffee producers from nearby Central and South America were ready and willing to fill the void and the privateers were eager to provide the means.
Thus, the fledgling colonies began turning to coffee instead of tea, because of its availability.
Unwilling to accede to the demands for representation in Parliament, the gap between the colonies and England continued to grow and fester, resulting eventually in the Revolutionary War.
The East India Company continued to flourish for nearly a century, finally dissolving in 1874 when its functions were fully absorbed into official government machinery and its private army nationalized by the British Crown. In the modern era, its history is strongly associated with corporate abuse, colonialism, exploitation, and monopoly of power.
The end result was that Americans, having turned away from tea, never looked back and today the beverage has dropped to the 6th most popular beverage in America, far behind the leading 5.
While worldwide, Tea is still the second most popular beverage, behind water, America has decidedly chosen other liquids to satisfy its thirst.