Back in the nineteenth century, English moustaches were huge, waxed and worn on every forelip that could muster them. This caused problems: the nineteenth century was also a key tea-drinking period, and if you dangle your waxed moustache above a gently steaming cup of tea, the wax melts. Even if your moustache manages to hold up its magnificent peaks through strength and bloodymindedness, it’s still going to get tea in it.
Fortunately, ingenious nineteenth-century potters found a solution: the moustache cup. A small ledge sits across the top of a teacup, and tea-drinkers rest their moustaches on top of the ledge, sipping tea through a little hole while keeping their waxed ends safe.
In these modern days of less complex teacups, it would perhaps be possible to guard one’s moustache by drinking directly from the spout, as teapot designers originally intended; or, venturing into the less distant past, by making tea so repellant that you have no desire to drink it. In the seventeenth century, when tea was still in the process of being introduced to Europe, one set of instructions suggested that the drinker
beat up the yolks of two new-laid eggs with a dessertsponful of fine sugar and then mix them with a pint of hot (but not boiling hot) China tea that has been poured off the leaves.
Apparently the scrambled-egg tea drink
discusseth and satisfieth all rawness and indigence of the stomack, flying over the whole body into the veins, and strengtheneth exceedingly and preserves one a good while from the necessity of eating.
I find it quite easy to believe that I would be relieved from the necessity of eating for some time after eggy tea, yes.
If you can ignore the bit where they’re pouring it onto eggs, though, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were a great period for tea in Europe, mostly because nobody was quite sure how to make it or what its effects were. Maybe it was an evil drug (William Cobbett, campaigner against the evils of tea, claimed that tea “is, in fact, a weaker kind of laudanum, which enlivens for the moment and deadens afterwards”); maybe it was the best thing ever.
For some reason, anti-tea activists were particularly keen on involving pigs in their experiments: Cobbet suggested that people who doubt the poisonous nature of tea should
put it to the test with a lean hog: give him the fifteen bushels of malt and he will repay you in ten score of bacon or thereabouts. But give him 730 tea messes, or rather begin to give them to him, and give him nothing else, and he is dead from hunger, and bequeaths you his skeleton, at the end of about seven days.
and the anti-tea Mr Hanway reported an experiment which showed the apparently dire results of, er, scorching a pig’s tail with hot tea.
On the other side, though, there were anecdotes demonstrating that tea was a healthful tonic:
The Princesse de Tarente [...] takes 12 cups of tea every day, which, she says, cures all her ills. She assured me that Monsieur de Landgrave drank 40 cups every morning. ‘But Madame, perhaps it is really only 30 or so.’ ‘No, 40. He was dying, and it brought him back to life before our eyes.’
To be fair, this last is from Madame de Sévigné, who also reports that, for example, the fair-skinned Marquise de Coëtlogon drank too much hot chocolate during her pregnancy and as a result gave birth to a small black child. Plus she doesn’t report any experiments involving pigs, so she can’t be very reliable.
Desperate to settle the matter of whether tea is a harmful drug or a delightful healthgiver, but without any pigs at hand, I recently conducted an experiment with two housemates, an aunt, and a small boy, whereby I denied them sandwiches and cake and fed them only tea and scones. They’re still alive, twitching their big hairy ears and wiggling their curly little tails, so presumably that settles it: tea is healthy, and also these scones are pretty nice.