A Bit About the Story of Tea
Tea has a fascinating history that has been interwoven through countless cultures in different ways over many centuries. The following is only a taste of how Nature’s finest brew has touched, influenced, and inspired humanity over time. The medicinal usage of tea goes back before recorded history, while its current consumption remains a fundamental part of many people’s everyday life. As the West continues to learn of its subtle prestige, variety of form, fullness of flavor, and health-promoting qualities, tea will continue to play an ever-increasing role in the realms of wellness, ecology, community, business, art, food, and culture.
Did you know?
- Legend has it that tea was accidentally “discovered” by the Chinese emperor-herbalist Shen Nong in 2700 BCE when a tealeaf wafted into his cup of hot water one day. The tea ontributed to his experience of peaceful alertness, a quality which eventually made tea one of the most revered beverages of Buddhist and Taoist monks.
- Lao Tzu, the classical Chinese philosopher, described tea as “the froth of the liquid jade” and named it an indispensable ingredient to the elixir of life.
- In the early 7th century, tea was introduced to Tibet when the daughter of the celebrated heroic emperor of the Chinese Tang Dynasty, Tang Tai Zhong, married the Prince of Tibet. Tea became a prestigious and precious dowry in a mountainous land that had little vegetation, and eventually became an important staple in the Tibetan culture of tea, widely enjoyed as Pu’er or black tea made with yak butter, salt, and barley meal.
- The first “Book of Tea” (or “Ch’a Ching”) was written in the Tang Dynasty in 780 CE by Lu Yu, an orphan who was eventually adopted by a Buddhist monk. This book became a classic throughout China, as it described the origins of tea, its methods of production, its preparation and ways of appreciation. During this time, tea was produced mainly in compressed “bricks”, and pieces were often used as currency, especially among those areas that were furthest from the center of the Empire, such as trade centers along the Silk Road and the Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road. Read here for more information on the ancient tea trade routes throughout Asia.
- During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), production and preparation of all tea changed. The tea of Song included many loose-leaf styles (to preserve the delicate character favored by court society), as well as a new powdered form of tea. Further, while steaming was the primary method of processing tealeaves for centuries, the Chinese learned to process tea through roasting and crumbling by the mid-13th century. This became the origin of today’s loose tea.
- In 1391, the Ming court issued a decree that only loose tea would be accepted as a “tribute”. As a result, loose tea production increased and processing techniques advanced. Soon, most tea was distributed in full-leaf, loose form and steeped in earthenware vessels.
- Tea use spread to Japan around the sixth century, when Japanese priests and monks regularly traveled to China to learn about its culture. They began bringing tea back home where it quickly became a favored drink of the religious classes and eventually, of royalty. In the ninth century, when the Japanese Emperor Saga encouraged the growth of tea plants, seeds were imported from China and cultivation in Japan took off.
- The famous Japanese Zen monk Eisai brought tea to Kyoto in 1191 and eventually became author of one of the oldest and most revered books on the subject, entitled How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea. Its first sentence states, Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete.”
- It can be argued that tea became known in the Western world as early as the 9th century, since records indicate that an Arabian traveler at this time had made reference to China’s high revenues in the Canton area due to its taxes on tea and salt.
- In 1285, it is recorded that Marco Polo deposed a Chinese minister of finance for his arbitrary augmentation of the tea taxes.
- In 1557, Portugal established a trading port in Macau and word of the Chinese drink “cha” spread quickly, but there is no mention of them bringing any samples home.
- In 1610, a ship of the Dutch East India Company brought the first green tea leaves to Amsterdam from China.
- Tea was known in France by 1636 and enjoyed a brief period of popularity in Paris around 1648.
- The history of tea in Russia can also be traced back to the seventeenth century, when tea was first offered by China as a gift to Czar Michael I in 1618. The Russian ambassador tried the drink, but didn’t care for it and rejected the offer, thus delaying tea’s introduction to Russia by fifty years. In 1689, tea was regularly imported as a precious commodity from China to Russia via a caravan of hundreds of camels making the year-long journey.
- Tea first appeared publicly in England during the 1650s, where it was introduced through coffee houses; however, it was initially promoted as a medicinal tonic.
- Tea eventually made it to the British colonies and America by 1674, but was enjoyed mainly by the aristocracy at this time.
- By 1750, “sweet tea” became the national beverage of England. The voluminous tea supply from China was eventually obtained through the forced-trade of opium, grown in nearby British-owned India. Tea became an important part of Britain’s global trade, contributing to British global dominance by the end of the eighteenth century. Over two hundred years later, and much change in political history, the British are still big fans of tea. As the second largest per capita tea consumers in the world, each person consumes close to 5 lbs a year.
- The Boston Tea Party was designed as a direct protest by the American colonists against the British Government in which they destroyed many crates of tea belonging to the British East India Company in Boston Harbor. The incident, which took place on Thursday, December 16, 1773, was one of the precursors for the American Revolution.
- There is reference to tea drinking in India found in the writings of a Dutch seafarer, who wrote of tea being both eaten and drunk in India in 1598. Tea had been known as a medicinal plant for millennia in India, but was not really drunk for pleasure until the British began to establish plantations there in the early to mid-19th century. The British introduced tea to India in 1836 and into Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1867. At first they used seeds from China, but later used seeds from Assam. The Indian tea industry grew to be the largest producer of tea for nearly a century, but was recently displaced by China as the top tea producer in the 21st century.
- Tea planting in the Indian district of Darjeeling began in 1841 by a Dr. A. Campbell, a civil surgeon of the Indian Medical Service, who had been transferred to that area during 1839. He used Chinese seeds to eventually create what some consider the “champagne of black tea”. Though its seed origin was birthed in China, it became known as “Darjeeling” because of where it was cultivated. Experimental tea plantation flourished here in the 1840s and the government established tea nurseries shortly thereafter.
With an ever-increasing interest in health and the manifold varieties of delicious tea, the American specialty tea market has more than quadrupled since 1993, and now generates nearly $10 billion a year.
Adapted from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea
Love this History of Tea! I shared this with my child who asked “why”. You may want to add one sentence of explanation to the following:
The Boston Tea Party was designed as a direct protest by the American colonists against the British Government in which they destroyed many crates of tea belonging to the British East India Company in Boston Harbor. The incident, which took place on Thursday, December 16, 1773, was one of the precursors for the American Revolution. The 1773 event demonstrated against taxation by the British government without political representation for the American colonists, and references to the Boston Tea Party and even costumes from the 1770s era are commonly heard and seen in the Tea Party movement that was started in 2009 in the U.S. conservative Republican Party.
Thank you very much for your contributions to the story of tea. We appreciate the deep and rich history that tea has had throughout the world.