Tea through Time at Rancho Los Cerritos is the latest Rancho Los Cerritos exhibit, curated by Arts Council for Long Beach intern Anthony Smyers. For the first time in Rancho history, this exhibit will have its opening online. Find the exhibit here: https://www.rancholoscerritos.org/tea-through-time-exhibit/.
Since 1844, many different people have passed through the doors of Rancho Los Cerritos, and although there were many different cultures, one of the threads that ties the individuals together is the tradition of serving and drinking tea. Whether it was for medicinal purposes or to ward off hunger, the first of these exhibits, on display now on our website, aims at telling you a story of how the inhabitants and workers, of different cultures, imbibed this beverage and partook in this rich tradition. Starting with the origins of what tea is, Camellia Sinensis (Latin for “from China”) is a tea plant or tea shrub that produces the leaves of most of the teas we know, with the exception of herbal teas which are made from other flowers or plants. When we talk about the origins of tea, it is speculated as to when the first cup was brewed but we do know that the primary uses of the beverage across different cultures, such as those in Mexico, Spain and India started with medicinal purpose to which we also see a heavy influence at Rancho Los Cerritos by looking at the various herbs grown in the garden that could be used in such teas.
Starting in the 1800s, lead-lined boxes or tins like our Black Painted Tea Tin with Courtyard Scene kept out light that would reduce the quality of the tea and allowed for easier transportation of goods as opposed to the Wop Hop Tea Tin, a larger transport container found in the Rancho Storeroom which usually contained smaller, measured packets of loose leaf tea. After tea reached the Rancho Los Cerritos, we know historically that shared vessels were used to distribute loose tea and it wasn’t until Queen Victoria added a formal teapot like our Silver Teapots, to already existing tea accompaniments seen in the formal Tea Service Set. Artifacts like the Teapot with Warming Stand would let one dilute strong tea or re-wet used leaves once water had run out while items like the Sugar Bowl and Creamer have history of being used by the English Aristocracy to combat the bitterness of tea. Chinese influence like the Ceramic Ginger jar, held and delivered ginger additives to one’s tea to not only enhance the flavor but also add medicinal effect. The items here are all very specific to tea being had in the comfort and spectacle of the home while the Chinese Tea Caddy with Tea Set gave the ability to people, specifically Chinese railroad workers, to share in their tea experience without needing to create a fire or boil water. The advent of the individual English Tea Cup, Teacup and Saucer and Purple Tea Set addressed any issues with trying to consume a hot cup of liquid without burning one self. To be noted is that a reason that tea cups with handles were not around for some time is because there wasn’t a way for the handle to be attached to the cup and bare the weight of a full container until the discovery of a hard paste in the 1700s by the German alchemist Friedrich Bottger.