Glimpse of Yesteryear
Winter was cold back in the early days. Happily, by the time the settlers began coming to Geauga (late 1700s- early 1800s), the three cold…
Winter was cold back in the early days. Happily, by the time the settlers began coming to Geauga (late 1700s- early 1800s), the three cold weather beverages still preferred today were already well established.
Probably the oldest of the three is tea. It is said that the second Emperor of China, Shen Nung, discovered this beverage when some leaves blew into his water around 2737 B.C. Tea quickly became popular both as a medicine and as a refreshing drink, its use spreading around the world. Naturally, it became the first nonalcoholic beverage to be taxed. And taxed it was … heavily.
Chocolate was first cultivated by the Olmec Indians about 300 B.C. The Mayans learned of this bitter but invigorating drink by 250 B.C. Columbus brought cacao beans back with him to Spain after his 1492 voyage and again after the 1502 voyage. Ferdinand and Isabelle both found little use for it.
However, less than 30 years later, King Charles V of Spain was very interested in this beverage … so much so that he started the trend of taxing it very heavily. In 1590, Spanish nuns began mixing honey into the cacao beverage, an immediate hit. And, in spite of the cost, by 1700, drinking chocolate was pretty much worldwide among those who could afford it. In 1795, Dr. Joseph Fry of Bristol, England, invented a steam driven chocolate grinder, making the manufacture of chocolate on a factory scale possible and bringing down the price so that the average person could afford it as a special treat.
The third drink, coffee, was being cultivated on the Arabian Peninsula since A.D. 1100. It reached the shores of the “New World” by 1725.
So … if you were invited to breakfast or lunch in the early 1800s, what could you expect as a beverage? Both tea and chocolate were still heavily taxed and neither could be cultivated in the Western Reserve. Coffee was actually a bit cheaper, but like the first two, had to be purchased from the little mercantile that had sprung up in Geauga. So, you were always at the mercies of the supplier being able to get his merchandise through from the East Coast when you wanted it.
Of course, there were always “spirits.” Many people brewed their own beer and some made wine. Most little settlements included a distillery (in fact, debts were often paid in spirits). But, in those days, a lady did not “tipple,” so other beverages were in demand. Tea remained very expensive well into the 1800s and coffee was sometimes hard to get. Chocolate was becoming more available and affordable, but was still not found in most homes. So … what to do for a good, warming, nonalcoholic drink?
The women of early Geauga had an answer, one they had brought with them when they emigrated here.
You see, tea is technically made from the leaves and buds of the tea plant or Chamelia sinensis. But the women of the Western Reserve made beverages they called “tea,” which technically were really “tisanes” or “decoctions” … the leaves or flowers of herbaceous plants other than Chamelia sinensis. These were steeped in water to produce a drinkable beverage. Nowadays, we call these “herbal teas.” The ladies used mint, basil, chamomile, hyssop and even corn silk and that old Native American favorite, pine needles.
For information on the events at the Geauga County Historical Society’s Burton Century Village Museum, call 440-834-1492 or visit www.geaugahistorical.org.
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