What can be more satisfying on a cold winter day than a nice cup of tea?

Mountain Gateway Museum & Heritage Center in Old Fort will celebrate this centuries-old beverage with the opening of a new traveling exhibit, “Steeped in Time: Tea and Traditions.” The exhibit opened Saturday at the museum located at 24 Water St. in Old Fort and will be there through the Fourth of July weekend. Admission is free.

“Steeped in Time” was developed by Mountain Gateway’s sister institution, the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City. It highlights the history of one of the world’s favorite drinks. Around the globe, tea consumption ranks second only to water. Hot, cold, sweet or unsweet, this brew has helped shape modern society and continues to grow in popularity, according to a news release.

Visitors to the exhibit will learn how tea is grown and manufactured; how it is shipped and prepared; what items have been used over the centuries to produce and drink it; and what customs have developed around this important potable.

The Dutch introduced tea to America in 1640, having first imported it from China. Over the next century the Dutch and, later, the British East India Company, did such a thriving tea trade with the American colonies that “taking tea” became a social ritual in upper-class households. But for common colonists, the expensive beverage was a luxury they couldn’t afford.

When England’s King George III imposed the Tea Act of 1773, tea prices in America skyrocketed, causing a sharp decline in tea consumption for both economic and political reasons. Protests against the Tea Act led to the Boston Tea Party in December 1773. And in 1774, in the coastal town of Edenton, N.C., Penelope Barker and 50 of her female friends held a mock tea party and signed a statement supporting a boycott on British tea bound for the American colonies. That event became known as the Edenton Tea Party.

Rebellion against British taxation ultimately resulted in the American Revolution. After the war, tea consumption in the new United States increased again as American merchants began importing tea directly from China. In the mid-1800s, tea gardens in India became a new source of tea imports.

By century’s end, Americans also were drinking green tea from Japan and black tea from Ceylon. By then, tea had become more affordable and readily available to all social and economic classes, according to the news release.

Learn more about tea by visiting the “Steeped in Time” exhibit. Mountain Gateway Museum is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

A regional branch of the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, the Mountain Gateway Museum & Heritage Center is the westernmost facility in the N.C. Department of Natural & Cultural Resources’ Division of State History Museums.

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