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CEAPS Speaker | Robert Hellyer "Book talk on Green with Milk and Sugar: When Japan Filled America’s Tea Cups"

Event Type
Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies
1080 (Lucy Ellis Lounge) Foreign Languages Building (707 S Mathews Ave, Urbana, IL 61801)
Mar 31, 2023   1:00 - 2:30 pm  
Robert Hellyer (Associate Professor, History, Wake Forest University)
Yuchuan (Mike) Shen
Originating Calendar
CEAPS Events Calendar

*This is a hybrid event.

Today, Americans are some of the world’s biggest consumers of black teas; in Japan, green tea, especially sencha, is preferred. This talk will explain how these national partialities are deeply entwined. Tracing the trans-Pacific tea trade from the early nineteenth century onward, it will examine how interconnections between Japan and the United States have influenced the daily tea habits of people in both countries.

In the nineteenth century, Americans favored green teas, which were imported from China until Japan developed an export industry centered on the United States. The influx of Japanese imports democratized green tea: Americans of all classes, particularly Midwesterners, made it their daily beverage—which they drank hot, often with milk and sugar. In the 1920s, socioeconomic trends and racial prejudices pushed Americans toward black teas from Ceylon and India. Facing a glut, Japanese merchants aggressively marketed sencha on their home and imperial markets, transforming it into an icon of Japanese culture.

The talk will highlight the ways in which trends in American tea consumption unfolded in Illinois, and how competition for the US tea market played out at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition (1893) and the Century of Progress (1933-1934) world fairs.


Robert Hellyer is Professor of History at Wake Forest University. His first monograph, Defining Engagement: Japan and Global Contexts, 1640-1868 (Harvard, 2009), explored foreign relations in early modern Japan. His other publications include: Robert Hellyer and Harald Fuess, eds., The Meiji Restoration: Japan as a Global Nation (Cambridge, 2020) and Robert Fletcher and Robert Hellyer, eds., Chronicling Westerners in Nineteenth-Century East Asia: Lives, Linkages, and Imperial Connections (Bloomsbury, 2022). The research and writing of Green with Milk and Sugar: When Japan Filled America’s Tea Cups (Columbia, 2021) was supported by Smithsonian, Japan Foundation, Hakuhodo Foundation, Sainsbury Institute, and NEH fellowships. 

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