The American Tea Revolution


By Tom Havran

What Americans have done with tea as a beverage is revolutionary — quite possibly as revolutionary as the actions of the Sons of Liberty on the night of December 16, 1773, when they dumped 342 chests of English tea into the Boston harbor to protest the British tax on tea.

In those days, the only proper way to drink tea was the British way, which is still very much adhered to in Britain today:
1. A kettle of water is brought to a rolling boil.
2. Some of the boiling water is swirled around in the teapot to warm it and then poured out.
3. Loose leaf black tea is added to the warm teapot, which is then filled with hot water. The tea steeps for up to 5 minutes.
4. The tea is poured into a cup with milk, and perhaps sugar, and is drunk.
5. The most common time to serve tea is 4:00 PM.

The only questioned aspect of this protocol was, and still is, whether to put the milk in the cup before or after the tea.

America vs. England/Coffee vs. Teateacup
In the days before the American Revolution, tea was a wildly popular beverage in the American Colonies, enjoyed by all classes of people in all types of formal and informal settings. However, the revolutionaries were willing to give up their beloved tea rather than pay the tax imposed on it to the crown without representation. That’s how the American Revolution had its defining moment — and the revolution of how Americans drink tea got its jump start as well.

In the post Boston Tea Party days, drinking tea substitutes became a popular way for Colonists to express their revolutionary spirit for Independence from England. Coffee soon became the most favored tea substitute in America and that’s still the case 241 years later, with more Americans drinking coffee than tea. (The Specialty Coffee Association of America estimated the retail value of the U.S. coffee market at $30-32 billion dollars for 2012, compared with the Tea Association of the U. S. A. estimate of retail supermarket sales of tea at around $2.25 billion that year.)

The Tea Bag
The revolutionary spirit of Americans seems to embrace convenience and immediacy, along with a disdain for anything potentially fussy, such as the fancy teapot, tea cozy and hand-painted porcelain cup and saucer that are necessary for proper British tea service. We like our tea fast, neat and easy, and the most significant development in that regard has been the development of the paper tea bag. Bagged tea was an inadvertent invention by New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan in 1908. He had been sending samples of his tea to buyers in little silk bags, and his customers started to plunk them directly into cups of hot water rather than messing with a teapot and strainer. Sullivan saw the potential, and the paper tea bag was born. To this day, the most popular way to brew tea in America is one bag and one cup at a time.

Iced Tea
Unlike the moderate, maritime climate in the British Isles, it gets hot in America in the summertime. As early as the late 1700s, recipes for sweet iced tea punches and cocktails can be found in historical cookbooks, especially in South Carolina and Virginia. These references are rare, partly due to the fact that only a very small, wealthy population could afford to import and store ice from the North before the invention of refrigeration. The watershed moment for iced tea is widely considered to have occurred at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, where English tea merchant Richard Blechynden couldn’t give away free samples of his hot tea in the sweltering summer heat. He scored some ice from an ice vendor, iced his tea samples, and the fair goers went crazy for the stuff. The popularity of iced tea has been growing in America ever since, especially during the warm summer months. According to the Tea Association of the U. S. A., 85% of the tea consumed in America is iced.

Instant Tea
Eventually the quest for American convenience dispensed with the tea leaves altogether and brought us the development of instant tea, a powder that can be dissolved in hot or cold water. The first commercial version was introduced by Nestle in the 1930’s, but more versions appeared post WW II. The Tea Association of the U. S. A. states that instant tea accounts for less than 10% of the tea consumed in America and that number is declining.

Even though tea captures a minority of the beverage interests of Americans, we’ve revolutionized the way tea is consumed.

How do you take your tea?

Tom-HavranAbout the author: Tom is communicator of natural living for Frontier, Simply Organic and Aura Cacia brands. In other words, he’s a very imaginative copywriter. A local boy, raised on a farm just down the road from the company’s headquarters in Norway, Tom enjoys drawing, plant hoarding, cooking and living the simple life in the beautiful state of Iowa.

Secret Ingredients: A simple scone recipe and other ‘good things’

The secret ingredient that makes every recipe better is a story. In this installment of our Secret Ingredients series, a simple scone recipe becomes a reminder to pause and enjoy life’s goodness.

simple scone recipe

By Katie Staab

is the best word to describe winter evenings in western Tennessee. There might not be snow falling, but the desire to take refuge in a cozy kitchen is just as strong as if there were. I spent one such evening at a friend’s apartment six years ago listening to Ingrid Michaelson’s ukele melody “You and I” on repeat, baking scones and learning to treasure life’s small, yet immensely good, things.

This friend of mine, Jennifer, believed in the value of scattering little, elegant pleasures throughout your day —  like fresh flowers on an end table, her grandmother’s delicate china teacups, a piece of dark chocolate after dinner. Years before Pinterest came into existence, she taught me to keep a “good things” notebook, filled with dreamy recipes, practical how-to articles, fashion inspiration and photos that spoke to me of beauty. Continue reading

Sleeper Spices: Juniper Berry

Wake up your palate and expand your cooking repertoire with spices you may not have experienced before. In this installment of our series highlighting “sleeper” spices, learn about the unique seasoning capabilities of juniper berries — and get tips for using them to awaken your next cooking endeavor.

Frontier juniper berries

What it tastes like: Juniper berries combine a fruity-tangy essence with a forest-fresh, palette-expanding note. The aroma is a bit reminiscent of grapes and evergreen tree resin.

What it looks like: Blackish-purple, plump little berries about the size of wild blueberries. Continue reading

January treat: Lemon-balm infused simple syrup

By Tom Havran

January can be a dreary time of year, making rituals like a cup of hot tea all the more important. For a special treat, sweeten your cup against the bitter cold winter with lemony-herbal simple syrup. It’s especially good in a light, flowery tea such as white peony.


Simple syrup is a classic liquid sweetener that is employed to more effectively and precisely sweeten iced beverages that tend to prevent granulated sugar from dissolving fully. A simple syrup infused with lemon balm leaves is a lovely way to flavor and sweeten beverages — both when you want to avoid using lemon juice and when you want to intensify its lemony flavor. Lemon balm herb (also called melissa) has a fine lemon-like flavor that is both suave and intense. Continue reading

7 steps to an easy stir fry (without a recipe!)

easy stir fy

By Alan Miles

I love stir fries. Not so much the ones on restaurant menus or from recipes in cookbooks, but the kind of easy stir fry I make out of leftover rice and odds and ends in the refrigerator and pantry. I love how much fun it is to cook them, how good most of them end up tasting and how no two of them are ever completely alike.

I’ve never made a stir fry from a recipe. My history with them goes back to my college days, when I first began to care about what I was eating, had little time or money to cook, and pursued a lifestyle that in no way included planning meals ahead of time.

With stir fries, I could load up on ingredients like bulk grains, nuts, seeds and fresh produce and throw it all together at the last minute for a healthful meal. Every so often I’d have the added step of cooking rice or another grain (usually a 2 to 1 mix of rice and wheatberries) — but I always made plenty extra, so most times I had cooked and refrigerated leftover grain to add to the pan as an ingredient.

Stir fry time machine
As I was making a quick stir fry the other day, I realized how little had changed from those college days — in either my cooking methods or my enjoyment of cooking and eating stir fries. My college stir fries were often pretty minimal. That was the situation with this one, too. Just like in college, I had few ingredients on hand, but I knew I was still going to be able to put together a satisfying stir fry.  Continue reading

8 New Year’s resolutions that begin in your kitchen

sustainable kitchen tips

By Alan Miles

If you’re thinking about 2015 resolutions that make both your world and the world better, start in your kitchen. It’s probably a hub of activity in your life, offers plenty of opportunities to save money and — because it’s a key area of resource use and waste production — it’s a great place to make changes with an environmental impact.

Here are 8 simple, kitchen-centric New Year’s resolutions that benefit you and the environment:

The resolution: I will make fewer shopping trips.
Shop less frequently (especially for non-perishables) with a shopping list to eliminate forgotten items.
How you benefit: Save gas and time, and make fewer potentially unhealthy and expensive impulse purchases.
How the environment benefits: Less fossil fuels used.

The resolution: I will buy local food.
Take control over your purchase of food and prioritize what you can find that’s locally grown and in season to put your eating in sync with your geography. Many co-ops and natural food stores champion local food. Also, check your local media for info about farmers markets and CSAs, or look them up on the Local Harvest website.
How you benefit: Get fresh, in-season food from people in your community and support your local economy.
How the environment benefits: Lower carbon footprint with less travel and packaging for food that’s in harmony with your geography and seasons. Continue reading

Secret Ingredients: Ona’s gingerbread houses

The secret ingredient that makes every recipe better is a story. In this first installment of our Secret Ingredients series, a shared recipe for gingerbread used to make gingerbread houses turns into a memorable Christmas experience for a family.

By Alan Miles

We have a lot of recipes at our house. Besides shelves full of cookbooks, there are notebooks, folders and card boxes overflowing with handwritten ones. But we have only one recipe that’s framed and hanging in the kitchen. Ona Yoder’s recipe for gingerbread houses is singled out in commemoration of a person and a Christmas my family never forget.


Ona Yoder in one of her many blue dresses.

Ona Yoder

Ona Yoder was our nearest neighbor when my wife, Karen, and I rented a farmhouse in the Iowa countryside in the 1980s. Ona was in her 80s by then, unmarried and still living (by herself) in the same house she had been born in. She grew up with farm-girl responsibilities when the family raised almost all their own food, made their own clothes and cut their own wood. As far I could tell, she owned only blue dresses. She said things like, “Oh my gracious!” and, “Well, I’ll be!” and peppered her conversation with endless homilies like, “Clear moon, frost soon.” And Ona was humble and generous to a fault. Continue reading

Sleeper Spices: Grains of paradise

Frontier Grains of Paradise

By Tom Havran

Wake up your palate and expand your cooking repertoire with spices you may not have experienced before. In this installment of our series highlighting “sleeper” spices, learn about the unique seasoning and spicing capabilities of grains of paradise — and get tips for using it to awaken your next cooking endeavor.

What it tastes like: With the most romantic name in all spicedom, grains of paradise warrant their illustrious title with their vivid, peppery flavor. Even though the flavor is reminiscent of black pepper, this exotic West African spice is actually distantly related to cardamom. It has an aromatic, volatile, slightly citrusy flavor and creates a pungent sensation on the tongue. People who find the taste of black pepper too sharp and unvaried may prefer the more suave, lingering heat of grains of paradise.

What it looks like: Whole seeds are brownish-black, 1/8-inch wide, irregularly shaped and grain-like. Continue reading

How I buy ‘local’ cinnamon

vanilla beans

Frontier Co-op CEO Tony Bedard tries his hand at vanilla bean sorting at our Madagascar supplier’s facilities.

By Alan Miles

I like local food. On our last visit to the weekend farmer’s market in nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa, my wife and I bought produce and flowers, nut butters and jams, and even dishcloths and soaps from small, local farmers and businesses. On a regular basis, we shop from the roadside produce stand that we drive by on our way to visit the grandkids. One of the things I like about my membership in New Pioneer Co-op (my local food co-op) is that they champion local products. And it’s not just because the price is right that we’re thrilled when our friends with big gardens stop by with their overflow harvest — the taste of those vegetables from down the road puts trucked-in produce to shame. Besides the quality of local products, I like the community, social, economic and environmental aspects of local buying.

At the same time, I also eat a lot of food that comes from the other side of the world — with the same enthusiasm. That’s because I look at the cinnamon from Vietnam, the vanilla from Madagascar and the other Frontier Co-op products I bring home from work as “buying local.” Here are my reasons:

The spices are sustainably grown. Okay, I can’t make the case that eating something that comes from nearly 10,000 miles away is minimizing food miles. But when it comes to something like cinnamon, I’m not going to find it locally grown. So short of simply not eating anything that doesn’t grow in Iowa, I have to make another assessment — I look at how sustainably foods that are unavailable locally are grown where they do grow.

A big part of our Well Earth® sustainable sourcing program is helping small farmers access the resources and knowledge they need to grow their crops organically and sustainably. The organic training center we funded in Sri Lanka, for example, does just that. Thousands of farmers, from numerous countries, have been trained in organic, sustainable agriculture — and the center does research to improve organic growing methods as well. (We’re funding a second training center in Sri Lanka that’s opening soon.)

Most of these small farmers are already committed to biodynamic, no-chemical farming. Their use of the land is efficient, low-tech and hands-on, with intense intercropping, natural fertilization and sound land-conservation methods. They improve their land rather than deplete it. Continue reading

5 tips for eating consciously at the holidays

By Kailee Meskimen

As the holiday season comes into full swing, our awareness of healthy habits is clouded by an endless succession of tantalizing treats: creamy spiced eggnog, boats full of gravy, piles of mashed potatoes and slices of pie. An abundance of shared food is a given at holiday gatherings, but eating it consciously and still celebrating the bounty doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

small plates-2

Rather than depriving yourself of festive food and drink or feeling guiltily about over-indulging, stick to these five simple tips during holiday celebrations to keep ravenous behavior at bay and fully enjoy each bite. Continue reading