S is for Smouch




No not the smooch (although they are pronounced the same), that is a kiss or a spell of amorous kissing and cuddling, but the end- product of a revolting array of “things” – like copper, lead, gypsum and believe it or not even sheep’s dung, that were added to tea to alter its flavor, taste, and appearance.  But I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s backtrack a little.

The quality of tea itself, even the expensive higher -grade teas, was often questionable in 18th century England.  Tea arriving from various ports in China, could be more than a year old, by the time they reached British shores, merely due to the long sea voyage. This was especially a problem with green teas… so what to do?

Enter the Process of Tea Adulteration…

Meaning the adding of various additives, to not only alter the tea itself, but to make the tea heavier, thereby increasing sales profits, since tea at that time was sold by the weight.

“When gathered they are first dried in the sun then baked.  They are
next put on the floor and trod upon until the leaves are small, then
lifted and steeped in copperas, with sheep’s dung, after which, being
dried on the floor, they are fit for use.”
Taken from Richard Twining’s “Observations on the Tea
and Window Act and on the Tea Trade, 1785”.

But the adulteration of tea leaves was not taking place just in England. It was also a Chinese practice to mix other substances with the tea. European and American consumers expected their expensive green teas to have a blue tinge to their coloring and so, as the great plant hunter, Robert Fortune, explained in 1852 in A Journey to the Tea Countries of China, the Chinese method had for some time been to “crush Prussian Blue to a fine powder and add gypsum in a ration of three to four resulting in a light blue dye powder. Add the powder five minutes before the end of the last roasting”. A London newspaper, the Family Herald, commenting on Fortune’s publication, said, “We Englishmen swallow tea, go to bed, turn and toss, keep awake, get up, complain of unstrung nerves and weak digestion, and visit the doctor, who shakes his head and says, ‘tea!’. This is what he says, but what he means is ‘Metallic paint’.”

Some estimates suggested up to three million pounds (weight) of these mixtures were produced a year. So pervasive was the practice of counterfeit tea that Parliament passed an Act in 1725 condemning it.


Was nearly impossible to detect once it had been added to a tea blended by a knowledgeable, if dishonest, tea tradesman. However, it was blatantly obvious when added to unblended tea leaves. So, discerning tea-drinkers made it a point to only purchase unblended teas. Unblended teas were much more expensive, but they could not be easily adulterated.  It was the custom in homes of the wealthy, that the lady of the house would blend the tea to be served to her guests, that way guests would be assured that they would be getting an unadulterated tea.

 In the end, because the consuming public knew that it was easier to adulterate green tea, more and more people began to buy only black. This may have marked the beginning of the British preference for black tea and a gradual decline in the amount of green tea purchased.

Next… Shui Jing Gui


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s