Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Catherine Beecher talks tea

I'm sure we're all familiar with Harriet Beecher Stowe, who famously wrote the anti-slavery novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin," but are you familiar with her sister, Catherine Beecher? Catherine has been called "the Martha Stewart of the Victorian era," and many years ago I purchased a copy of the book Catherine wrote with her sister, "American Woman's Home." The other day it dawned on me I had never looked to see if Catherine had anything to say in the 1869 book about tea. Let's just say I was surprised!

In the chapter on "HEALTHFUL DRINKS" she writes:

"It has been shown that the great end for which Jesus Christ came, and for which he instituted the family state, is the training of our whole race to virtue and happiness, with chief reference to an immortal existence. In this mission, of which woman is chief minister, as before stated, the distinctive feature is self-sacrifice of the wiser and stronger members to save and to elevate the weaker ones. The children and the servants are these weaker members, who by ignorance and want of habits of self-control are in most danger. It is in this aspect that we are to consider the expediency of using tea and coffee in a family. These drinks are a most extensive cause of much of the nervous debility and suffering endured by American women; and relinquishing them would save an immense amount of such suffering. Moreover, all housekeepers will allow that they can not regulate these drinks in their kitchens, where the ignorant use them to excess. There is little probability that the present generation will make so decided a change in their habits as to give up these beverages; but the subject is presented rather in reference to forming the habits of children."

The evils of hot drinks are also commented upon:

"There is no doubt that warm drinks are healthful, and more agreeable than cold, at certain times and seasons; but it is equally true that drinks above blood-heat are not healthful. If a person should bathe in warm water every day, debility would inevitably follow; for the frequent application of the stimulus of heat, like all other stimulants, eventually causes relaxation and weakness. If, therefore, a person is in the habit of drinking hot drinks twice a day, the teeth, throat, and stomach are gradually debilitated. This, most probably, is one of the causes of an early decay of the teeth, which is observed to be much more common among American ladies, than among those in European countries. … Most tea-drinkers consider tea as ruined if it stands until it reaches the healthful temperature for drink."

As if all that weren't silliness enough, Catherine has this to say:

"It has been supposed by some that tea and coffee have, at least, a degree of nourishing power. But it is proved that it is the milk and sugar, and not the main portion of the drink, which imparts the nourishment. Tea has not one particle of nourishing properties; and what little exists in the coffee-berry is lost by roasting it in the usual mode."

I like to think, though, that if Catherine were alive today she would acknowledge her error in stating that tea has "not one particle of nourishing properties," for indeed we know otherwise. Since she was such a fan of education for women, if she were still around I'll bet she'd be first to insist we all drink more tea because of its healthful properties. At any rate, I enjoyed seeing how far we've come in our understanding of tea!


  1. It is amusing to see old articles warning against the debilitating effects of tea on one's health that were prevalent 300 years ago. I have some tea books that have some of the ads and articles written and I always get a kick out of how heartfelt and urgent they sound. Thank you for sharing this as I had not seen it before in my readings.

  2. Makes me wonder what they'll say about us in 100 years!

  3. Fascinating information. Now I will be curious to look in old books to see what more has been said about tea. You have peaked my curiosity.

  4. I love the art work on the cover. Hard to believe that tea could have such a reputation, glad 'times have changed!'
    What an interesting family.
    Thank you for the review,


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