The Cinnamon of Autumn Teas

Cinnamon may well be autumn’s quintessential spice. Where would pumpkin and apple pie be without it?! Or your favorite chai on these chilly evenings?cinnamon-3-web

Culinary Spice Extraordinaire

Although the Western world tends to reach for cinnamon as part of dessert, this versatile spice is capable of so much more.

Native to Asia, the bark of the Cinnamomum evergreen tree has been used for centuries in Asian and African cuisines.

Cinnamon is harvested during the rainy season when the bark is more pliable; the bark is then rolled into the familiar sticks. The word “cinnamon” derives from Greek kinnamōmon, which itself came from the Hebrew qinnāmōn.

From the Middle Bronze Age

Gløgg, glüwein, mulled wine anyone? Cinnamon is an essential ingredient, but these beverages are actually latecomers to the mulled wine world.


Much earlier, ancient Egyptians were imbibing spiced medicinal wine, and in 1700 BC, revelers in a Canaanite palace were quaffing red and white wine that contained honey, mint, juniper berries—and cinnamon.

To the Middle Ages

Cinnamon eventually reached Europe, signaling wealth and prestige during the Middle Ages. It was used in baked goods, beverages, and meat-based dishes—and the more extravagant the use, the higher your social status.

The 1475 wedding of George, Duke of Bavaria, and Jadwiga of Poland required a staggering

386 pounds of pepper, 286 pounds of ginger, 257 pounds of saffron, 205 pounds of cinnamon, pounds of cloves, and 85 pounds of nutmeg (Freedman 2003).

Incidentally, cinnamon may have masked the taste of meat spoiling, with meat being another of those upper-class perks.

To Today—A Spice for Health?

This aromatic spice has been used medicinally for millennia, and today we know that cinnamon indeed has many health benefits.

The caveat is that much more research needs to be done. Like tea, the properties of cinnamon depend upon many factors such as where and how it is grown, the concentration used in the study, and the cinnamon variety.

Cassia cinnamon is the variety most likely to be found in our kitchens because it is more flavorful and less expensive, but Ceylon cinnamon seems to offer more health benefits. In high doses, cassia cinnamon is actually toxic.

Even with all the ambiguity, research does suggest that cinnamon may improve the function of insulin.

Like tea, cinnamon has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. In fact, when heated, its antibacterial benefits evidently increase.

Recent studies suggest that cinnamon also helps protect against cognitive problems, including Alzheimer’s disease.


So what’s not to like about cinnamon? Especially when blended with tea! 

Flavours and Fragrances of Plant Origin, FAO–Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy. 1995.
–Freedman, P. “Spices: how the search for flavors influenced our world,” YaleGlobal Online. 2003.
–LaMotte, S. “Cinnamon: Pantry staple—and medical powerhouse?” CNN. August 29, 2017.
–Seema, J. et al. “Effect of Cinnamomum zeylanicum extract on scopolamine-induced cognitive impairment and oxidative stress in rats,” Nutritional Neuroscience 18(5). 2015.
–”Spice pages,” Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages.
–Wilford, J. N. “Wine cellar, well aged, is revealed in Israel,” The New York Times. November 23, 2013.


Why Great Loose Leaf Tea Comes via Germany

From One Perspective, as Tourist

There is something special between kids and their grandparents. A bond, a pact, between them that tacitly circumvents the parents.

So as a teenager back in the early 1970s, I was lucky enough to travel several times with my grandmother, visiting her brother in Kassel, Germany, and seeing the country through her eyes.

We did a lot of walking around the city and through parks.


Including a bit of touristy stuff.


And we ate and drank around my great-uncle’s coffee table, a new experience for me. There was wine of course, along with orange juice with seltzer. Coffee too, plus a whole lot of tea, which we sipped from delicate glass teacups.

But what I learned only this morning is that Kassel has its own little claim to fame in the tea world!

To Another, Rooted in History

Which takes us back to World War I. Which was truly awful.

Humanity, however, perseveres. Compassionate innovators in the medical field, for example, sought to mitigate horrific injuries. And on another plane, people worked to ensure that tea would remain available.

Now this isn’t totally trivial. Although economic factors undoubtedly were involved, tea and coffee are embedded into our social fabric, and numerous studies have shown how the actual beverages and the ceremony around them can positively impact our mental and emotional well-being.

So when the British navy interrupted the tea trade during the war, the Germans—anticipating life after the war—established the German Tea Association in the centrally located city of Kassel on April 21, 1917.

The tea companies, however, were mainly in Germany’s north end, so the Association soon relocated to the port city of Hamburg, located along the Elbe River in northern Germany.

Elbe River, Hamburg (undated photo; probably early 1970s)

To Today, and Looking Forward

Over the past century, global tea production has increased tenfold, and with tea being as popular as ever, it seems likely that this trend will continue. Last year, 200,000 tons of tea came into Hamburg! (From what I calculate from 2016 statistics, this is about 11–12% of the world’s total that is exported from the countries of origin.)

Germany has emerged as a leader in tea processing, upholding strict standards in tea quality—both for flavor and to ensure no pesticides or heavy metals are present. To meet these requirements, the tea is rigorously tested for contaminants, and tea tasters do the rest.

And lest you think tasting tea all day would be a dream job, consider this:

a tea taster samples 400 types of tea every day and has mere seconds to decide whether to purchase,

according to Maximilian Wittig, the Association’s current managing director.

Tea that passes all testing is either packaged for distribution throughout the world, or is first blended (mixtures of different teas, such as breakfast teas) or flavored (e.g., with herbs, spices, dried fruit, flower blossoms, or oils like bergamot).


And here I am, looking at Kassel and my early experiences there with yet another perspective. And Happy 100th to the German Tea Association!

East Frisian tea with rock sugar and heavy cream. In this region of Germany, 300 liters of tea per person are consumed (in England, it’s only 200 liters/person).

Source: “German tea association celebrating 100th anniversary in Hamburg,” Hamburg News. September 4, 2017.

What Is Yerba Mate Tea?


Want a nice evening herbal tea that helps you sleep? Yerba mate is not it!

Yes, it is an herbal, being the dried leaves and twigs from a variety of holly that grows in South American rainforests. And yes, legend says it is a gift from the gods.

But, it promises to keep you alert to any rainforest predators with its three naturally occurring stimulants—the same as found in tea, coffee, and chocolate!

Mate: Its Brew

A cup of mate contains caffeine, theophylline and theobromine—all of which readily cross our body’s blood-brain barrier, giving us that energy boost.

mate-leaves-webHowever, it’s complicated. Scientists try to tease out what causes what, but each of these elements work differently. And sometimes they work together.

For example, caffeine keeps us awake and theobromine seems to help us sleep. But together, they may work as a stimulant! Go figure!

There are other pluses to this brew. Mate is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Because it is low in tannins, a strong brew will not be bitter—which means you can let the leaves remain in the liquid.

But then, how do you drink it with all those bits of leaves floating around?

Mate: Its Gear

Well, if you want to be really traditional about mate, you need a chia and bombilla. That is, a hollow gourd to hold the mate, and a strainer straw to filter out the bits of leaf.



Mate: Its Heritage

gaucho_no-border-webPeople have taken advantage of mate’s effects for centuries, although there was a blip in 1616 when a disgusted governor of the Spanish province in Argentina attempted to stem its growing popularity by banning it.

Economics often win out, however, and the Jesuits were soon cultivating—and profiting from—the plant (touting the fact that it wasn’t alcoholic, whatever else its perceived vices).

By the mid-1700s, the larger-than-life gauchos came onto the scene, becoming folk heroes in Argentina and Uruguay lore.

Prizing their independence as they roamed the South American pampas, gauchos subsisted on game and wild cattle.

Unparalleled horsemen, they traveled lightly—with bola and knife as weapon and tool, and woolen poncho as coat, blanket, and protection.

And they drank yerba mate.

Mate: Its Own Day

On Argentina’s calendar, November 30 is National Yerba Mate Day!

But why wait until then to see what South Americans have been enjoying for centuries?

Brew it in any cup for 5–10 minutes, strain out the leaves, and decide for yourself if it is indeed a gift from the gods.

–”Health benefits of methylxanthines in cacao and chocolate,” by R. Franco et al., Nutrients 5(10):4159–4173. October 2013.
–Garsd, J. “Tea Tuesdays: Gift of the moon, bane of the Spanish—The story of yerba mate,” NPR, The Salt, March 17, 2015.
–Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Gaucho South American History,” Encyclopædia Britannica, n.d.
Note: Gourds, metal straws, and mate available at

Loose Leaf Tea in an Art Museum Exhibit

Loose leaf tea in an art museum? Unexpected perhaps, but tea—along with its ware and ceremony—has been integral to Western culture for hundreds of years and to Asian culture for thousands!

Currently, TeaHaus loose leaf tea is part of an ongoing exhibit, Elegance from the East: New Insights into Old Porcelain, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, providing visitors the opportunity to  see and smell teas that are similar to what 17th-century Europeans would have been drinking.

Here, curator and scholar Shirley M. Mueller pulls together seemingly disparate strands—the porcelain trade, the neuroscience of collecting beautiful items, miscommunications between cultures, art, and tea—into a compelling narrative!


(Video provided by Shirley M. Mueller)

Teas shown in video are available at

For more on Shirley’s exhibit, see my previous blogs:
Tea, Porcelain, and Our Brains—yes, there IS a connection here!
Women and Tea: Making It Their Own
Miscommunication and Mistakes, Fired into 18th-century Teapots and Plates
How Old Is That Teapot? Using Art to Date and Interpret Art  
A 1644 Shipwreck and Its Teapots
“Modern” Teapots in a 1700s’ Shipwreck    
The Valuable Tea Protected the Porcelain after This Ship Sank in 1752

The Valuable Tea Protected the Porcelain after This Ship Sank in 1752

If you were living in the 1700s and had to transport porcelain pieces by ship—without bubble wrap or cardboard boxes or styrofoam peanuts—you had to figure out a way to pack in as much as you could and minimize breakage.

Stackable Solution

The Dutch East India Company found the answer partly in “couple ware,” inexpensive porcelain pieces that easily stacked (yeah, not what comes to my mind either when I read “couple ware”).

A 1726 record book noted that because dinner plates, bowls, and tea sets didn’t bring in much money for the company,

it was better to buy plates, tea cups and saucers [from China] . . . as these are most in demand in Europe and sell for the best price (Maldini 2012).

stack-plates-webAt this time, tea and coffee cups did not have handles and therefore could be conveniently stacked.

(In case you’re wondering: handles became “fashionable only after 1760, when the developing European industries and consumption culture started to push Chinese industry in search of differentiation” [Maldini 2012].)

stack-cups-webSo when the Dutch ship Geldermalsen was loaded in Canton in late 1751, its cargo had more tea cups and saucers than any other type of porcelain (Habermehl 2017). In fact, it carried 63,623 tea cups and saucers!

A mere 19,535 coffee cups and saucers came in second, and there were only 578 teapots. We know this because shipping invoices were exact, and several copies were usually made.

Serving a Supporting Role to the TEA

Porcelain served as ballast on ships. The tea was stored on top of the porcelain, with the higher-end teas being transported in lead-lined crates.

And even though the Geldermalsen carried 147 pieces of gold as well, the tea was actually the most valuable part of the cargo—it would bring in the most profit. And this shipment was all about making money.

Which Ended Up Helping to Protect the Porcelain

Unfortunately for the East India Co., the Geldermalsen hit a reef and went down in 1752, killing 80 of its 112 crew members. The prized tea ended up serving as a protective layer over the rest of the cargo.

When Michael Hatcher discovered the wreck in 1986, he had to go through a lot of tea to recover the porcelain! He eventually brought up more than 150,000 pieces, including this teapot currently on display in Shirley Mueller’s exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Underglaze blue and white porcelain teapot, from Geldermalsen cargo. China, 1752. (Reproduced with permission from S. M. Mueller.)
Underglaze blue and white porcelain teapot, part of the Geldermalsen cargo. China, ca. 1752. (Reproduced with permission from S. M. Mueller.)

Although this teapot was underwater for over two hundred years, its glaze remains intact and shiny, which means that it had been protected from the saltwater. Its look is still Asian, and like the teapot from the Ca Mau wreck (see previous post), it has a straight spout, a similar finial, and a perforation to vent steam in the lid.

Its flat lid, however, differs from the domed lid of the Ca Mau pot and from the flat lid of the earlier Hatcher teapot (see earlier post on Hatcher shipwreck). Both those lids sit on top of the teapot opening, whereas this lid fits into the teapot, flush with the teapot itself. All three teapots, however, are underglaze blue and white porcelain. lids-web

Shipwrecks are snapshots, confirming what goods were being produced and transported at a specific time in history—and giving us an amazing opportunity to compare teapots that spent hundreds of years on the ocean floor, still intact, still lovely, and still waiting to brew that tea.

–Habermehl, N. “Porcelain and gold bullion from Asia,” Shipwrecks and Lost Treasures of the Seven Seas, accessed July 2017.
–Maldini, I. “Design history of European tea cups and saucers,” VU University Amsterdam. 2012.
–Mueller, S. M. Elegance from the East: New Insights from Old Porcelain, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana. May 26–October 22, 2017. Tap here for more information about the exhibit, which is ongoing.

“Modern” Teapots in a 1700s’ Shipwreck

In early 1700s, an overloaded Chinese junk caught fire and sank. Like the ship lost in 1644 (see previous post), this was really bad news for exporter and importer alike!

The vessel had picked up its cargo from the porcelain factories of Canton and was en route to Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies. Europeans were clamoring for tea along with pretty much anything porcelain.

In this shipwreck—called the Ca Mau (in reference to where it sank off Vietnam)—we are given an incredible look into how the Chinese were answering that demand.

Asian teapots

Most of the teapots found on the Ca Mau were still Asian in shape and decoration, as seen in the spherical teapot below.

Having spent several hundred years in the sea, this pot’s glaze is a bit dull—and it retains only its blue decoration, which is beneath the glaze. (This is why this porcelain is called “underglaze blue and white”—the blue and white were painted on the pot, and then the pot was glazed.)

Originally, however, this pot was much more colorful. Additional decoration had been painted on top of the glaze. The salt water, however, eroded away that paint, while the glaze protected the blue that was underneath. When the light hits the pot just right, you can still see the ghosting of the delicate decoration.

Underglaze blue and white porcelain teapot, originally with Imari decoration, from Ca Mau cargo. China, 1723. (Reproduced with permission from S. M. Mueller.)
Underglaze blue and white porcelain teapot, originally with Imari decoration, part of the Ca Mau cargo. China, 1723. (Reproduced with permission from S. M. Mueller.)

Morphing into European design

The Ca Mau—which sank sometime between 1723 and 1735—also vividly illustrates the evolution of western-style teapots. Even though the pots seem thoroughly Asian when you look at them superficially, their designs were changing to satisfy European use.

  • the base of the spout now contains a web or strainer holes to hold back tea leaves so that they don’t clog in the spout (remember, at this time they were drinking whole leaf tea, so the leaves unfurled as they brewed)
  • the lid now has a small perforation to release steam so that the hot water doesn’t bubble up into the spout
steam vent in teapot lid
Steam vent in teapot lid. (Reproduced with permission from S. M. Mueller.)

With everyone scrambling to get on the same page. . . .

In fact, by 1735, the strainer and steam vent are standard features. What the Ca Mau shows us, however, is that at the time that this ship sank, the Chinese were exporting teapots with and without these features,

indicating that tea vessels at this moment were on the cusp of modernization . . . [with] their variety confirm[ing] the challenge that the Chinese and the Europeans faced in their attempts to produce entirely functional and attractive tea-serving vessels for the West (Mueller 2009:6).

This variety of pots also strongly suggests that the ship had been loaded with porcelain that had been made at multiple factories. The artisans at each factory did their best to fulfill orders, which came from Europe and went through Chinese agents and included “drawings, prints, actual models, and linguistic interpreters” (Mueller 2009:8).

With so many entities involved—coupled with the problems of communication and economics at a time when travel between east and west took years!—it seems obvious that innovations would take awhile to become standard.

But in this shipwreck, we find evidence for that supposition. And in a tragic loss of people along with cargo and ship, a modicum of compensation.

Next up, tea and porcelain at the bottom of the sea.

–Mueller, S. M. Elegance from the East: New Insights from Old Porcelain, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana. May 26–October 22, 2017. Tap here for more information about the exhibit, which is ongoing.
–Mueller, S. M. “Revelations of the Ca Mau shipwreck: Chinese export porcelain teapots on the cusp,” American Ceramic Journal, vol. XV. 2009.

A 1644 Shipwreck and Its Teapots

Sometime around 1644, bad news reached Chinese exporters and Dutch importers. A Chinese junk—laden with porcelain—was lost in the South China Sea.

This was a huge loss! In these early years of porcelain trade between East and West, fine porcelain was costly, turnaround time was measured in years, and demand in the West was growing.

From the cargo, it appears this ship was headed to Batavia, the capital city of the Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta, Indonesia), with some items intended for the Southeast Asia market and others for Europe. Michael Hatcher discovered and excavated this wreck in the 1980s, unfortunately, sans archaeologist. Still, the 23,000 pieces of porcelain recovered give us a historical snapshot!

Underglaze blue and white porcelain jar, from Hatcher cargo. China, 1643. (Reproduced with permission from S. M. Mueller.)
Underglaze blue and white porcelain jar, part of the Hatcher cargo. China, 1643. (Reproduced with permission from S. M. Mueller.)

Excavating shipwrecks helps us put things into perspective, into context, into a specific time period. The recovered porcelain jar shown above is very similar to the one depicted in the Willem Kalf painting (1669) of my last post (tap here to see)—which means that that particular jar could have been produced earlier than 1669.

Further, because we know that Kalf’s painting shows luxury items, we know that this jar was expected to bring in a decent profit—further verification (as if any were needed!) that neither Dutch nor Chinese were happy to hear about the loss of this cargo!

The porcelain teapot below was also recovered from the wreck, and allows us to see exactly what China was producing for the European market at this time. This pot is still Asian in feel, unlike later exports that answered Europe’s call for different design features and decoration.

Underglaze blue and white porcelain teapot, from Hatcher cargo. China, 1643. (Reproduced with permission from S. M. Mueller.)
Underglaze blue and white porcelain teapot, part of the Hatcher cargo. China, 1643. (Reproduced with permission from S. M. Mueller.)

The flat lid of this pot, like that of another teapot recovered from the ship,* has a notched finial, as shown here:

hatcher-teapot-notched-finial-web  hatcher-teapot-notched-finial-(tall-teapot)-web

Although all the teapots recovered had finials similar to these, there were twelve new teapot shapes found in this cargo.

If we consider that an earlier—1613—shipwreck did not have any pots that seem to be teapots, it seems that teapots were not being imported by the Dutch until sometime after 1613; T. Volker believes that the Dutch began importing teaware around 1624 (Mueller 2005). So within only two decades, the Dutch went from importing no teapots to importing multiple teapot designs!

Tea was rapidly catching on. In 1637, Dutch East India Co. directors wrote to Batavia personnel, saying that they expected Chinese and Japanese tea as part of every cargo (Mueller 2005)!

As you would expect, shipwrecks dating to the early and mid-1700s illustrate further teapot innovation as well as the incredible demand for tea—coming next.

–Mueller, S. M. “17th century Chinese export teapots: imagination and diversity,” Orientations 36(7). 2005.
–Mueller, S. M. Elegance from the East: New Insights from Old Porcelain, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana. May 26–October 22, 2017. Tap here for more information about the exhibit, which is ongoing.
*Photo from exhibit by S. M. Mueller, S. M. and R. C. Miller. The Luxury of Tea and Coffee: Chinese Export Porcelain, Highlights from the Shirley M. Mueller Collection, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana, 2016.