American tea culture is part of our country’s history, and though back in the day most cowboys were immersed in the country’s coffee culture (cowboys were staunch coffee drinkers) you still had the occasional individual that enjoyed a cup of tea. Of course, many of these were British men and women who came to America looking for adventure. My fictional town of Clear Creek in Oregon is full of British folks and the hotel there serves tea every afternoon. But in history, tea was enjoyed only on occasion and mostly by ladies.
Pioneers even enjoyed tea and brought it west in “bricks”. These bricks could be square or rectangular in shape. All you had to do if you had a hankering for a cup, was to break off a piece to make your tea. A brick lasted a long time if there weren’t a lot of avid tea drinkers in the house and could keep for months.
Because bricks of tea were easy to transport and kept, once in a while you’d get a cowboy who brought some along with his other supplies for survival. These other supplies included a good knife, a gun and some ammo, something to start fires with, fishing line and a hook, piggin strings (basically strips of rawhide used for tying the feet of cattle for branding and what not), a canteen and water, cookware, food (usually bacon — I was born in the wrong time) biscuits or hard tack (then again I’ll take the 21st century!) dried fruit if they could get their hands on it and of course coffee. Or in the case of the occasional tea drinker, a tea brick. Cowboys also had a rain slicker, coat, blanket, bandanna, a few extra clothes, tobacco and books! Yes, many a cowboy read, and a surprising number of them were well educated. Who’d have thought?
I can just picture some British fellow in America for a little adventure, having his tea on the prairie, reading his book and getting teased by the other cowboys. This sort of thing did happen as so many British thought traipsing around America would be fun. These were often lords and ladies who had the funds to do it. My Prairie Bride series is based on a British family coming to America then going west to start a cattle ranch. Unfortunately, the father dies in Missouri just before winter causing a conundrum as more often than not, a woman wasn’t allowed on a wagon train without a husband. She does find one (that was a whole book!) and finally makes it to Oregon with her sons, new husband and step sons. And yes, she and her sons were all avid tea drinkers.
If you weren’t a cowboy, tea was for afternoon social gatherings rather than a meal. Ladies had to have a way to gossip, catch up on all the latest fashions, not to mention scandals, and be seen in the right gatherings with the right people. Drawing room teas, as they were called, could have up to 20 to 30 people. Reception teas as many as 200. The growing middle class found that tea was an economical way of entertaining without having to spend too much money. You can also bet they weren’t using bricks of tea, but the loose leaf variety.
Do you enjoy a good tea? Can you imagine having tea while watching over a few thousand head of cattle or along the Oregon Trail? I’ll pick a winner from the comments below to receive a free e-copy of Trail to Clear Creek. And yes, this is the story I mentioned above of my British family going west!