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We know that Hobbits drink a lot of tea, but I can't find any piece of information leading to the source of tea leaves. Judging on equivalence of coordinates, Hobbits should not be able to cultivate their own tea, should they?

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    tea is just dried leaves. Leaves grow all over the world. There's a tea farm in England at Tregothnan - tregothnan.co.uk - also - bordering on 'real world' close option – NKCampbell Oct 5 at 22:09
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    waltons.co.uk/blog/how-to-grow-your-own-tea says it should be fine in a UK-like climate – Pete Kirkham Oct 5 at 22:53
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    Hobbits also cultivate tobacco...I think both elements fall under "bits of Victorian England that never got expunged from the legendarium". – elemtilas Oct 6 at 0:31
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    @elemtilas: Tobacco is actually explained: the Numenoreans, mariners who had circumnavigated the world, brought it to Middle Earth. – Shamshiel Oct 6 at 11:57
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    It may not even be the same as what we call tea today. The books were supposed to be translated by Tolkien and he uses modern English idioms and familiar terms when it makes sense. He would have no possible way to determine their tea had anything to do with our tea other than it being a plant that is prepared in a similar way. – John Meacham Oct 6 at 13:27
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There are quite a few references to tea in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, although most of them are to "tea-time" or "tea" as a meal. For example:

There were three official meals: lunch, tea, and dinner (or supper).

The Lord of the Rings Book One, Chapter 1: A Long-expected Party
Page 27 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Single Volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

However the meal that the the English (and I suppose the Hobbits) call "tea" is clearly named after the drink. One of the very few references to tea as a drink is when Frodo drinks a cup of tea on the day after Bilbo's farewell party.

When he had overcome Sancho and pushed him out, Frodo collapsed on a chair in the hall. ‘It’s time to close the shop, Merry,’ he said. ‘Lock the door, and don’t open it to anyone today, not even if they bring a battering ram.’ Then he went to revive himself with a belated cup of tea.

The Lord of the Rings Book One, Chapter 1: A Long-expected Party
Page 39 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Single Volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

I have searched The Letters of JRR Tolkien and found no explanation of where the tea drunk by the hobbits was grown. We know that the Shire traded with some other places in Middle-earth (Saruman bought pipe-weed from them), but it is unlikely that they traded with people in the latitudes where tea is mainly grown in our world (e.g. the Harad).

We have to assume that that the tea the Hobbits drank was grown further north than most of our world's tea production. That is certainly possible as we know that tea can be grown in the Americas as far north as Michigan and New York.

Keep in mind that the Shire also produced the best (according to many) pipe-weed in Middle-earth despite the fact that, in our world, England is not known for tobacco production.

Finally, keep in mind that tea is just an infusion of herbs, any leaves can be used. In *The Houses of Healing", the herb-master tells Gandalf that athelas is used in this way:

Unless, of course, you give heed to rhymes of old days

When the black breath blows
and death’s shadow grows
and all lights pass,
come athelas! come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king’s hand lying!

It is but a doggrel, I fear, garbled in the memory of old wives. Its meaning I leave to your judgement, if indeed it has any. But old folk still use an infusion of the herb for headaches.’

The Lord of the Rings Book Five, Chapter 8: The Houses of Healing
Page 865 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Single Volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

So we know that, at least in Gondor, people make "tea" from local herbs.

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    According to this source dinzie.com/blog/2017/09/15/… tea comes from a particular tree, so it means that in Tolkien's world, infusion = tea I guess ? – Japyx Oct 6 at 8:31
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    @Japyx Not just in Tolkien's world. In our pantry we have peppermint tea, peach tea, camomile tea, and blackberry tea. I'd refer to any of them generally as "tea". – Matt Gutting Oct 6 at 10:20
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It was probably grown in the South Farthing. We already know that tobacco grows there. (And, yes, I understand the arguments that say it shouldn't. Nevertheless, LotR unequivocally says that it does.) In the US, tea is grown commercially in South Carolina which is also a tobacco-producing area, though admittedly in the southern part of tobacco's range -- see this map, for instance.

It is true that, on a real-world basis, South Farthing's climate "must" be at the northern end of the tobacco-growing climate zone, but it's not a huge stretch to imagine that tea can be grown there also.

The tea could, of course, come from further south -- South Gondor should be fairly warm and might be decent tea-growing country. If not there, then even further south in Harad, perhaps. (While Harad and Gondor were often at odds, our own history says that if there are commodities which have a market, some trade will happen.)

The main argument against the source being further south is that the only tea-drinking that is attested in the canon occurs in the North which suggests -- but does not require -- a source in that area.

  • The more I read about it, the less I think there is a precise reference for the source of the tea :( The amount of tea Hobbits consume must imply some big producing area, and there is just no source or quote, weird – Japyx Oct 6 at 13:39
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    @Japyx Don't forget that Tolkien was writing a novel and while he used his wonderfully obsessive world and sometimes let it creep into view a bit too much, in the end he was too good a writer to bring in extraneous detail to no other end. (More likely, of course, is that he just didn't think about it!) – Mark Olson Oct 6 at 14:13
  • Still buzzing me but I guess you're right ! – Japyx Oct 6 at 16:10
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    "Tea" and other Britishims present in the texts might also be considered literary conceits akin to rendering the Westron name 'Maura Labingi' as 'Frodo Baggins' for contemporary English language speakers? That is: perhaps hobbits did not actually drink the steeped cured leaves of the Camillia sinensis plant, but had some other cultured domestic ritual fitting a similar cultural niche and 'tea' is just a free translation from Westron? (Something hinted at by Vernor Vinge in A Deepness in the Sky I think...) @MattGutting also – Lexible Oct 6 at 17:04
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Unfortunately I cannot provide an answer from the text or from Tolkien himself, but I can point to real world evidence and parallels to demonstrate that the presense of 'tea' in the Shire is in fact not unusual.

Firstly, I would like to assert that 'tea' in our own world can also refer to 'herbal tea' not made with the traditional tea plant (camellia sinensis), but can also refer to tea made with the leaves of various other plants, so calling something made from another plant 'tea' is not unprecedented.

Secondly, in-universe, the Lord of the Rings is supposedly a translation by Tolkien from the native language in which the story was originally told to his own language of English. This brings the implication that his terminology may be imprecise and his translations may be simplified and/or influenced by his culture. Tolkien may have chosen to translate the word for 'infusion of plant leaves in water' as 'tea' simply because it was the most recognisably similar word in English, or that he believed it to be the word his intended audience would be most familiar with.

And finally, based on the premise that the Shire is very much like rural England in terms of flora and fauna, I would like to point out that there are a number of native English plants from which tea can be made. The practice of making tea from these plants may in fact predate the importing of camellia leaves.

As has been pointed out in the comments, blackberry tea is certainly a possibility. Blackberries are a native English fruit that can be found growing wild, as well as being cultivated in gardens.

An option I personally think is quite likely is stinging nettles. The countryside is absolutely full of them and they are traditionally used to make nettle tea (among other things), a practice that goes back centuries, if not millenia. Doing so is perhaps less common with the advent of supermarkets, but some people, particularly those in rural areas and villages, still use stinging nettles for various (mostly culinary) pursuits.

Tolkien both lived in and visited various rural places throughout his life (e.g. Sarehole, a rural hamlet that was then part of Worcestershire), so I suspect he would be familiar with both nettle tea, and perhaps blackberry tea.

There are yet other plants native to England that could be used to make tea, though these are perhaps less likely, e.g. dandelions, burdock, apple mint, lemon balm et cetera.

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