Madeleine J. Hendry
Tea has many uses and many forms but it’s the places that it is found that makes it fun. People have always gathered for tea, whether it be women or men, and whether it was for business or pleasure. The culture of tea is vast. One place it comes together is the tea room or house. Tea houses have been popular since the beginning of the Song Dynasty in China, making their way through Asia to Europe, and eventually pouring into America (Tea House).
Tea rooms began in China. Originally seen as a medicine to treat a myriad of ailments, tea quickly became popular as a daily drink due to the taste and soothing effects. In the mid to late fourth century, tea plantations grew faster and with more product, leading to the casual consumption of the tasty beverage. The idea of tea houses and rooms was quick to travel over to the island nation of Japan. While it was already common for groups of women to gather for tea without their husbands, businesses began to pop up where complicated rituals and ceremonies were born. The Japanese decided to make the rooms more of a place of beauty and ritual, as opposed to the casual atmosphere of the rooms in China (JEOU). Of course, tea is popular in many countries in Asia but the majority of the tea culture belongs to China and Japan.
In the Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe tea rooms were places for the intellectuals and poets to gather. The Middle East treated the tea house as a place of congregation, especially in Turkey and Egypt. The rooms in this part of the world would serve both coffee and tea, some even having smoking areas for Hookah and tobacco (Tea). Turkey began this tradition in the sixteenth century having been influenced by Arabia and Egypt (Beeley). In Tajikistan the tea houses are decorated with Persian art, as are the ones in Egypt, though in Egypt they are referred to as coffee houses. In moving to Europe, Czechoslovakia developed quite the tea culture. Different tea rooms were created for different ceremonies and preparations. After the split in 1993 into the two countries Czechoslovakia is today, the Czech Republic held on tight to its tea culture. Tea culture is still important in Slovakia but it is called an ‘underground movement’ and has virtually disappeared from the public eye.
Tea became popular with the British people when it was brought from the south and quickly it evolved into so much more. In the seventeenth century Queen Catherine of Braganza brought tea with her to Britain from her homeland of Portugal when she married into English royalty. She began the tea sensation. Starting with the gentry and the higher class, tea became a regular afternoon treat; in later years it was passed down to the lower classes. This was common until the eighteenth century when businesses appeared in major cities serving fine tea with baked goods. The Duchess of Bedford in 1840 was credited with the creation of afternoon tea. Starting with the chain of Lyon’s Corner Houses in 1894, tea houses began to pop up all over Britain. In the early nineteenth century, with the arrival of the first and second world wars, tea houses began to be ignored, only regaining popularity after the fighting had ended.
Influenced by the British, the popularity of tea rooms and houses in America rose to high heights, especially with the establishment of the eighteenth amendment banning alcohol. In the early twentieth century, American women were starting to branch out of the home and own their own businesses; the business that was quite popular was the tea room. Tea rooms were places where the women felt safe and more at home, especially when many of the places were either converted homes or decorated to look like homes (Brandimarte). Similarly to the trend in Britain, the popularity of casual businesses like tea houses fell during the turmoil of the Second World War. When the beginning of The Great Depression hit the American people, small business, like tea rooms, were some of the first to fall. In fact, the homey little cafes were not popular again until the beginning of the 1970s and 80s.
Tea culture is important all around the world, having affected each and every section of humanity. Tea rooms and houses have varied throughout the years and will inevitably continue to adapt based on the further changes of people and the ways they wish to socialize. Tea rooms will always be places for business, for intellectuals, for mothers and daughters, and for people from all walks of life to gather.
Edited by: Anna Grace Dulaney