Guest Post by Mark Nenadov
“We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe.”
― Rudyard Kipling, The Collected Poems of Rudyard Kipling
This fall I discovered Gunpowder Green Tea, and thus got back into loose leaf tea. The name comes from the fact that the leaves are rolled up into little pellets that curiously resemble gunpowder. I am now hooked.
Besides having a substantially manly name, the tea also delivers a delicious, distinctively smokey and full-bodied flavour that has captivated my tastes in a way that no other Green Tea ever has.
Back in the day, a co-worker brought me back some loose leaf Wu Yi Oolong tea from China and I really enjoyed that. I would drink that again in a heartbeat. When I finished the container off, I bought a few other varieties of loose leaf tea, and then went to using tea-bags only for a long time.
My exile away from loose leaf tea is over, probably for good. Loose leaf tea is a bit more work. That said, there is quite the ritual to it, dare I say, perhaps even a bit of liturgy? Loose leaf tea is quite cost effective too, if you chose your sources wisely.
Tea Drinking Is Very Calvinistic
Is tea drinking a Calvinistic thing to do? Well, I need say little more than this: Charles Spurgeon loved it, and Charles Finney hated it. Case closed.
Charles G. Finney, who rejected his Calvinistic heritage for his peculiar brand of Arminian revivalism, clearly despised tea. He argued against it, claiming it had no nutrition value, being a mere stimulant. He also felt the thirst for tea was wasting money that would be better spent in “saving souls from hell”.
Spurgeon, on the other hand, seemed to have been dunked in a heaping pot of tea. And I do feel you would need a rather hefty one to immerse the man!
The Baptist preacher’s sermon illustrations and pastoral visits were often steeped in tea culture. So it was, also, that when he needed an word picture to talk about the quality of some people’s voices in his address to young pastors, he naturally said they were “like long-used tea-kettles”.
And there is a gem of an anecdote in Fullerton’s biography of Spurgeon:
“In another student talk he said that John Newton put Calvinism in his sermons as he put sugar into his tea, his whole ministry was flavoured with it; then he added, ‘Don’t be afraid of putting in an extra lump now and then.'”
One Presbyterian pastor has recently gone on the record saying that there was a reason tea was thrown over board during the Boston Tea Party. That’s a shameful sentiment.
I, on the other hand, while agreeing in principle that tea should not be taxed, am in stark disagreement with him—it’s a shame that 342 chests of perfectly good tea had to be destroyed. Could not some less delightful commodity been destroyed, such as mineral water?
As our references to Charles Finney have demonstrated, anti-tea sentiments are not new. Emily Brand has a quite interesting post on this matter. In it she shares how many in the 18th century had a very negative view of tea. She quotes a Mr. Hanway as saying that “Men seem to have lost their stature, and comliness; and women their beauty. Your very chambermaids have lost their bloom, I suppose by sipping tea.”. She also shares this gem from social reformed William Cobbett:
“Tea drinking fills the public house, makes the frequenting of it habitual, corrupts boys as soon as they are able to move from home, and does little less for the girls, to whom the gossip of the tea table is no bad preparatory school for the brothel… the girl that has been brought up merely to boil the tea kettle, and assist in the gossip inseparable from the practice, is a mere consumer of food, a pest to her employer, and a curse to her husband, if any man be so unfortunate as to fix his affections upon her.”
I have also noticed in my readings that Eliza Haywood, a popular English writer, once warned servants that tea was an “intoxicating spirit”. I will concede that tea is intoxicating in at least one sense, “intoxicatingly” good when enjoyed under the Lordship of Christ.
One is tempted, when faced such bare-faced opposition to tea drinking, quote from Dostoyevski (Notes from Underground) with a touch of swagger: “That is what I want. I want peace; yes, I’d sell the whole world for a farthing, straight off, so long as I was left in peace. Is the world to go to pot, or am I to go without my tea? I say that the world may go to pot for me so long as I always get my tea.”
Tea Drinking Is Manly
Contrary to what some might say, such as William Cobbett who claimed tea was “an engenderer of effeminacy”, tea drinking can be very manly.
First, many teas have a bold and smokey flavour. And some have a smokey flavour and a great name, such as Gunpowder Green Tea.
Second, there is something inherently manly about the primal and yet nuanced and delicate ritual of steeping loose leaf tea, as opposed to, say, repeatedly dunking a bag. There is potency and virility in the ritual.
Third, many manly men have enjoyed tea. Charles Spurgeon, Thomas Jefferson (who ordered Green Tea), Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, and George Washington all were tea drinkers. It would not be too much of a stretch to say that these were all men of the sturdy sort. Hopefully not too many of them put sugar or milk in their tea, though, or I may have to revise this list.
Fourth, tea can be taken straight—which some would say is quite manly. And I wouldn’t disagree with them. If I may quote Lemony Snicket: “Tea should be as bitter as wormwood and as sharp as a two edged sword”. Woe to the man that tries to dull his sword by putting milk or sugar on it.
That said, how manly tea drinking can be also depends largely on how one drinks it. Though I don’t have time to get into it here, there certainly is a manly way to drink tea.
I agree with Orwell when he said in the Evening Standard that “tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country”. I would only add that “this country” could be very well interpreted as the “great nation of manhood”.
It is my hope that you will enjoy a tea tonight. By yourself. By a fire. With a book. While reflecting on the goodness of God. And may you have neither pangs of guilt, nor may you for a second feel less manly than before you steeped.
There would be scarcely a more fitting way to conclude this piece than to quote the good old sturdy Calvinistic hymn writer William Cowper, who according to Samuel Taylor Coleridge was “the best modern poet”. Cowper wrote the following lines, and with them I close:
“Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful ev’ning in.”