Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Remember When . . . Tea Came in Bricks?

Last week a friend of mine from Colonial Quills made mention of "brick tea." Now, I had no idea what in the world she was talking about. Until this arrived in the mail yesterday:

The moment I withdrew this brick from its bag, the scent of tea wafted up to me. My daughter, who runs to the kitchen the moment she senses a package being opened, rushed out just then, saw the brown-paper-wrapped block, and said, "What's that?" My answer was to hold it out and say, "Smell."

You should have seen her eyes light up with delight and disbelief as she squealed, "Tea?!"

Tea has been a staple of many societies for centuries. But loose leaf tea is hard to transport, so back in the days of the silk road in Asia, the Chinese discovered that if they use forms to press the tea into standard sized bricks, they can transport them with ease, and the tea lasts through the journey.

This became such a standard that tea bricks could be used as currency, and this was the way most tea was transported for hundreds of years, all the way into the 19th century. So the tea tossed into Boston Harbor during the Boston Tea Party? That was bricks.

Naturally, when something is used so long, for so many purposes, there comes to be a rhyme and reason to each part of it.

I don't know if you can read the label on this, but if you do, you'll find its "translation"--what each part of it means.

The front of this particular brick has details that let buyers know that this tea comes from a company managed by more than one person, and is manufactured by Enterprise Company Tea and the Chinese Lee family.

The back of the brick is separated into squares that can be used as currency. One square, for instance, might equal the price of a chicken

In addition to being brewed, the tea traditionally pressed into bricks can also be eaten. I don't intend to try that, gotta say, but I am looking forward to separating some, putting it into my tea ball, and brewing myself a nice cup of fine black tea . . . with history.


  1. that is so cool! i've never seen tea like that and had no idea it came that way. i guess i always thought there was a bunch of loose leaf tea floating in the harbor ;)

  2. I was totally clueless too, until I saw the label on the package, LOL.