This is what the tea looked like that was dumped into the Boston harbor [Boston Tea party 1773]

Wowow! I'm so excited this came up! Because I happen to have studied this exact subject extensively! I work as a tea educator, and spend a lot of my time deep in the world of reading about the history of tea. The frankest analysis of the situation we can give is that we have no idea what kind of tea was dumped.

First off, there is very little evidence that colonists imported any kind of compressed teas like these bricks - if they had, they also would likely have not been pu'er, but brick compressed wuyi or another tea from Fujian. But most sources mention loose teas.

Secondly, we've got some evidence from the event! John Tudor, a local deacon, wrote a diary entry that 25000 pounds sterling worth of green tea had been destroyed. That's quite a price, so it could have been something like Hyson green, which was the 7542 of 1776 for any tea nerds out there. But! What influenced Tudor's report? A lot of people saw green tea floating in the harbor the next day, perhaps making him believe it was such. But the other teas frequently imported, like Bohea from Fujian, a bad British transliteration of Wuyi, were more tightly rolled. They may have sunk more quickly than larger and flatter green leaves.

If there were compressed bricks there, they were stone pressed. This means leaves would have been left intact, and thus looks a little looser than the tea in the picture. Additionally, traditional tea brick shapes don't have much of the markings that you see on this tea. They'd mostly be rectangular blocks wrapped and pressed in bamboo, like Sichuan Kang bricks, or maybe some golden melon or disk shapes that you see a lot of pu'er pressed in.

If you want to get super technical - the above brick looks to me like a fairly recent shou pu'er production, machine pressed based on the amount of compression present. This process was invented in the 1970's. The tea industry was privitized in China only in the late 90's. Another type of pu'er processing, Sheng pu'er, that may (emphasis on may - we've got no clue really) have been around in the 18th century gets dark like the tea above very slowly and in specific conditions. If that is sheng, to be that dark it would have to be from the early 90's at least, and no Chinese national releases from that period have that sort of patterned pressing. It would likely be a dull or circular cake or solid brick, wrapped in a white rice paper wrapper with red text. And probably stone pressed and not machine pressed like this cake.

If that was way too much information for you: for some reason a lot of museums have these bricks as examples of the destroyed tea. I don't know why this belief got started but it is probably wrong. We don't have much of a clue what the tea destroyed was, but it probably wasn't compressed in a brick, and maybe some of it was green.

If you can't tell I am a little obsessed.

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