The East India Company tea tossed overboard in Boston Harbor was all grown in China. But a century later, America’s tea of choice originated in Japan. This interesting turn-of-events would never have come about had it not been for the whaling industry.
Commodore Perry’s “Black Ships” opened the Japanese port of Yokohama in 1859 for the benefit of United States whaling ships who needed a port-of-call far from home. But within a few years, Pennsylvania kerosene, rather than whale oil, was lighting American homes. The great hunting ships were idled and rotting in harbors across the eastern seaboard. Sailors who once went to sea to battle the great leviathans of the Pacific were now employed to man ships that carried a more docile commodity: Japanese green tea. In the first year of legal trade, 400,000 tons of Japanese teas were exported.