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Sad But Epic History of Tea 101

  • 12 min read

The history of tea goes to the beginning of China about 5 000 years ago. According to the legend in the year 2732 B.C. Emperor Shen Nung discovered tea when the leaves of a tree flew into the boiling water in his pot. He was immediately intrigued by the pleasant aroma of the resulting beverage and took a sip. Legend says that the Emperor felt a euphoric feeling when drinking the intriguing drink like the liquid was studying every inch of his body.

Shen Nung named the brew “ch’a” which is a Chinese character meaning to examine or study. The year was 200 B.C. the Han Dynasty Emperor ruled that when talking about tea, a specific written symbol was required to depict wooden branches as well as grass and a man in between. This character, called “ch’a” signified how tea helped bring humankind in harmony with nature in the Chinese culture.

History of Tea Massive Tea Field

History of Tea in China

The demand for tea in China increased quickly from the 4th to the 8th century. It was no longer just used to treat ailments it was now valued for everyday pleasure and refreshment. Tea plantations were established across China as tea merchants were wealthy, and costly teawares were the emblem of prosperity and prestige for their owners.

The Chinese empire strictly controlled the cultivation and preparation of the tea plant. It was also stipulated that only women of a certain age likely due to their purity, were allowed to be the ones to handle the leaves of tea. Young female handlers were forbidden to consume onions, garlic, or strong spices, in case their hands could contaminate the tea leaves.

Invention of Black Tea

Up to the mid-17th century, the majority of Chinese teas were Green tea. With the growth of trade with foreign countries but the Chinese cultivators discovered the ability to preserve tea leaves by using a unique fermentation process. The resultant Black tea retained its aroma and flavor for longer than the less fragile Green teas. It also was better suited to export to other nations.

Tea in Modern China

Tea remains an integral element of Chinese culture for thousands of years. it was a popular beverage before the Egyptians constructed the great pyramids. It was traded with Asian nations long before Europe was able to leave the dark age of the dark. The significance and appeal for tea consumption in China persist today and is now an emblem of China’s history and its culture, as well as religion.

Students today compete to get into the highly special and highly selective Shanghai Tea Institute. Students at the top of their class must perform the ancient Guzheng Stringed Instrument, carry out an impeccable tea-serving ceremony as well as speak a foreign tongue to entertain guests from overseas and differentiate between approximately 1000 varieties of Chinese tea…to the present, less than 75 have received the certificate of tea Art certificate.

 There’s also an entire amusement park named Tenfu Tea Museum. Tenfu Tea Museum, China’s version of Disneyland and is dedicated to the Chinese tea drinking traditions.

History of Tea in Tibet

It is believed that the Chinese were the first to introduce tea in Tibet in the early part of the ninth century. The rugged climate of Tibet and the rock-strewn terrain made the cultivation of its own tea plants challenging which meant that tea was imported from China through the yak caravans. 

The long, exhausting journey to Tibet by yak took about 1 year and was threatened not just by the spectacular mountain terrains of the most imposing mountains in the world, but also by pirates and thieves who were looking for tea. To meet the demand for Tibetan demand for tea, about 300 to 400 tea-carrying yaks came daily into the country. 

Tea was extremely well-known in Tibet. The areas around it were used as a currency. Compressed tea was the most common method of payment for nearly everything, and both workers and servants were regularly paid this way.

Traditional Tibetan Tea

Traditionally, Tibetan tea is made by boiling the leaves for around 30 minutes before pouring the tea through a strainer constructed of horsehair (sometimes nowadays comprised out of plastic) into an elongated wooden container. Traditionally salt and yak butter are added to tea, and then churned until it becomes emulsified. These additives aid in replacing the salt and fat that is lost by people living in high-altitude areas that are part of the Himalayan Mountains. The younger generations of Tibetans often drink variations from Indian Chai.

A Tibetan Staple

Tea is an essential Tibetan favorite, with daily consumption of 40 cups and more per day. Tibetan ethics dictate that no one should go without drinking tea. The cup will never be empty.

History of Tea in Japan

In the 9th century, in the beginning, Japanese visitors to China were introduced to the value and customs of tea. Tea was a popular beverage. Buddhist monk Dengyo Daishi is credited for carrying Chinese tea seeds back to Japan after returning from his study abroad. 

Tea was a major aspect of Japanese monastery life. Monks utilized tea to keep their minds alert during meditation. The early 1300s saw tea was gaining popularity in Japanese society, however, its religious significance at the beginning changed the meaning and significance the Japanese attach to tea and directly affected tea’s role in the Japanese tea ceremony. Ceremony.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

The sacred Japanese tea ceremony, also known as “Chanoyu” was developed in the latter half of the 15th century, under the influence of Japanese philosophy that was part of Zen Buddhism. The ceremony focuses on respecting the process of making tea and drinking it. 

Zen Buddhism honors the essential components that are the basis of Japanese philosophy (harmony pure, reverence, purity, and peace) in Chanoyu. It was significant that tea rooms with special features were constructed in gardens of the backyard and the understanding of tea ceremonies was a prerequisite for women who wanted to marry.

Traditional Japanese Tea

The tea that was used in Chanoyu was created by whisking water into powerful ground green tea known as “Matcha”. While it may seem strange to the Western taste buds it was believed that the Japanese liked the fresh green, sour flavors of Matcha in preference to steeped tea techniques of brewing. 

The popularity of tea steeping returned in Japan around the end of 1730 when tea processors from the experimental world discovered steaming the tea leaves in order to stop the fermentation resulted in an energizing and greener tea that was more reminiscent of the fresh, powerful flavors of Matcha.

Tea in Modern Japan

Today tea is a major component (no-no pun meant) with the Japanese tradition. Tea is served along with every meal and is used to greet guests. Tea in bottles is sold at vending machine locations. Some shops even sell “Green Tea” Ice cream with a flavor.

Due to the small surface area (Japan is a group of mountainous islands in the end) elaborate terraces are created from the mountain slopes to plant tea. Tea production in Japan is among the most advanced technology anywhere in the globe.

Today, Japanese plantations use many special machines for the production of tea, in stark contrast to the traditional manual methods of producing tea that is still widely used in China. Due to their unique preferences for taste as well as their different taste preferences, the Japanese have designed their teas to be greener stronger, more potent, and less sweet than tea made in China.

History of Tea in Russia

In 1618, the Chinese gave tea as a gift to Tsar Alexis in Russia. Everyone was interested in the tea that was introduced. Tea quickly gained popularity. A trade route for camels began to transport tea to the countryside. The caravan traveled 11,000 miles and took 1 half years to travel via camel.

To keep tea-loving Russians happy, more than 6000 camels – each one with 600 pounds tea came into Russia every year. In 1903, the camel caravan became replaced with the famed Trans-Siberian Railway, which slashed the time of transportation by 1 1/2 years, to just an entire week.

History of Tea in Europe

History of Tea Tea Room Ladies

It was the Portuguese as well as the Dutch who first introduced tea in Europe at the time of 1610…Rembrandt was only 4 years old!  The tea-related dance in England was not officially started until 1662 when King Charles II married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. 

The new queen of Britain was a tea lover from childhood and brought along to complete her dowry the chest of premium Chinese tea. She started serving tea to her aristocratic acquaintances at Court and the news of this exotic Royal tea spread quickly.

Tea as an Identity Symbol

Tea was an import only the most wealthy can be able to afford to consume tea. The cheapest tea pound costs the average worker around a month’s worth of wage. The high prices for tea caused tea to be stylish and exclusive. 

Being able to prepare and consume tea with class and grace was a sign of social status and a symbol of intelligence and breeding. To this end, there were many rich 18th-century English or Dutch families who had portraits painted of their tea-drinking family members.

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea, a cherished British tradition, is believed to be attributed to Anna 7th Duke of Bedford who was unhappy with the gap that spanned between breakfast and a late-night dinner. To satisfy her cravings she advised her cook to bring a cup of tea and some light refreshments to her bedroom. Anna quickly began inviting friends to come along in the afternoon for tea…and the trend quickly spread.

High Tea

High tea is a different experience than afternoon tea. Although it may sound more upscale it is actually a working-class 19th-century tradition. The tea is served later (around 6 pm). It is a complete meal that is suitable for everyday people. It is offered with eggs, fish or meats cheese, bread and butter, and cakes. High tea is more of an evening meal for men, whereas Afternoon tea is more an opportunity for women to socialize.

Globalizing Tea

The Dutch controlled the tea trade until 1678 when the British began to import tea commercially basis. In 1678, the British royal family looking for complete control and profit from trade established the East India Company and granted it monopoly rights on all trade across Asia in the region of Eastern Africa.

 It was the East India Company that quickly became the most powerful monopoly world has ever seen and tea was its principal product. They were given the authority to take over territories as well as coin money, hold forts and armies, scold criminals, create alliances with foreign nations, or even declare war.

The rule of the East India Company continued until the time that the British Parliament declared commerce routes opened to competition in 1833. However, there were numerous effects that remained after the decades of dominance. For instance, the British East India Company transformed the world. They claimed Hong Kong, Singapore, and India as British colonies, and helped to create an international economy…all due to tea.

History of Tea Indian Temple Tea Plants

History of Tea in India

The Opium Wars

As tea consumption increased, exports of Britain did not meet increasing demand from tea exports. It was evident that the Chinese were more attracted to silver than cotton, the main export of Britain. Finding enough silver to tea became more difficult, and the British switched to growing an opium supply in its huge Asian colony…India. 

The clever British offered an opium shipment through China over the Indian frontier in exchange for silver. Then, they traded this same gold back with China to purchase tea. The illegal opium scheme was successful until 1839 when a Chinese official handed over 20,000 opium chests to a grave that was flooded in the ocean near Canton. One year later, Britain declared war on China and China responded by imposing an absolute embargo on tea exports to all countries.

Tea Plantations in India

China was wary about trade with the West prior to even Opium Wars began. China believes that its nation should be self-sufficient. They took steps to become isolated. The difficulties of getting Chinese tea have prompted Britain to consider different alternatives…like making tea on their own.

The high altitudes and climate that are typical of Northern India made it an ideal area for tea cultivation. In addition, explorers discovered indigenous tea plants within Assam, India as early as 1823. In the next few years, Indians became experts on cultivating stunning tea plants, however, they were lacking information on the process of making tea. 

Robert Fortune, a Scottish botanist, is acknowledged for spotting China’s traditional tea processing methods and then returning to India equipped with the latest knowledge, equipment as well as a small group of skilled Chinese cultivators.

History of Tea in North America

It’s no surprise that early North America, colonized by Europe was a drinker’s continent. European traditions and the same guidelines for etiquette were embraced across the Atlantic teahouses, as well as elegant silver and porcelain teaware was popular among the modern city centers that were New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.

History of Tea Tea Room Book Cover

The American Revolution

By the second part of the 18th-century tea was the largest and most valuable exportable commodity by Britain. The British government imposed a particular “tea tax” to take advantage of its growing popularity in America. The greed prevailed and the tax rate slowly increased to 119%, more than double the cost of tea when it first entered the American retail market.

In defiance, American ports refused to permit any importable items to come to be brought ashore. This led to the notorious Boston Tea Party, the British government’s closing of Boston harbor, as well as an influx of British troops on American territory. The events of this series marked an era of the American war of Independence…and America’s love affair with coffee. The boycott of tea was an act of patriotism.

American Progress with Tea

It is true that the United States is still responsible for some major shifts to the industry of tea. In the St. Louis World Trade Fair in 1904 an association of tea makers set up a tea pavilion that served teacups to everyone who attended. A summer with unusually high weather caused the person in charge of the booth with no visitors to pour the tea over a glass filled with cubes of ice. People lined up to sample the latest innovation – the iced tea. Today people in the U.S. guzzle almost 50-billion glasses of iced tea one year. This makes up more than 80 percent of all tea consumed by Americans.

Bags of tea were invented within the United States, albeit by accidental means. In 1908 the year 1908, a New York tea merchant sent samples of his product inside silk bags to cafes and restaurants across the city. After a while after which he realized that the cafes and restaurants were brewing tea in silk bags in order to reduce time. This method of tea brewing instantly was popularized.

Tea and Modern America

Even though tea is the most sought-after beverage in all of the globe (besides water) but it is only recently growing within the United States. In the present, millions of Americans are incorporating tea into their healthy eating habits or substituting tea for soft drinks and coffee.

History of Tea - Different Kinds of Tea and Their Beneficial Properties Infographic
History of Tea – Different Kinds of Tea and Their Beneficial Properties Infographic

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