History of Tea
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Throughout the world, tea has remained a speciality drink since its discovery and dissemination. Ritualised and reverred, tea has evolved from an insular energizer within the cold walls of monasteries to a social cuppa, a welcome drink.
AND THEN THERE WAS TEA.....
The discovery of this magic leaf goes back to Emperor Shen Nung of China, the first herbalist, who lived almost three thousand years before Christ and taught people the value of boiling water and cultivating land. It was by accident that Shen Nung discovered a leaf of a camellia-like bush in his steaming cup of water. Sipping the concoction, he found a drink far more refreshing and exhilarating than plain water.
In Japan, the discovery of tea goes something like this. Daruma, the monk who brought Zen Buddhism to China and Japan began a nine year meditation in 520 A.D. in a cave-temple near Canton, but growing weary after many months of staring at a stone wall, he fell asleep. Awaking, Daruma was so dismayed, he cut off his eyelids and threw them to the ground. It was there, the Japanese say, that the first tea plant grew, providing the monk with an elixir which kept him alert during his reverie.
AN ODE TO TEA.....
By the 8th Century, tea found its place in Chinese literature and legislation. The poet Lu Yu wrote the definitive commentary on tea in 780 A.D., and the tea classic 'Cha Ching' described how tea was grown, produced and enjoyed. With each succeeding year, tea evolved a step further, culminating in its Golden Age during the Tang Dynasty.
It was also during this period that this flavorful commodity was introduced to Japan in the form of tea brick moulds, by the Buddhist monks returning from pilgrimages to China. The Sung Dynasty (960-1280 A.D.) saw the tea culture blossom in both China and Japan. Powdered tea and delicate porcelain came into vogue. So did tea houses. In fact, most of the tea rituals we are familiar with, date to this period.
Tea evolution took a back seat during the Mongol invasions and socio-political upheaval, but the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D) attempted to revive many of the lost rituals once more. The black, green and oolong teas were developed during this reign, and the teapot became an indispensable vessel for brewing.
WESTERN TEA PARTY...
In the 16th Century, when European traders and missionaries began to visit the Orient, word of this magic beverage spread to the west. England was introduced to tea by the Dutch in the early 1600s, but it remained a drink of the aristocrats till the coffee houses started advertising it variously as a cure-all, an elixir, a longevity drink and most important of all, as an alternative to coffee. It was considered a man's drink till Chales II's consort, Catherine introduced it as the fashionable breakfast drink to replace ale.
Russians became enamoured with the new drink around the same time, which was brought by camel caravans trekking across Mongolia. North Americans learned about brewing in the mid 17th Century when the Dutch settled on the small island of New York, but the new settlers preferred boiling the leaves and eating them with salt and butter rather than drinking.
Within a hundred years of its introduction to Great Britain, tea had become an international commodity with lavish tea gardens everywhere with hawkers in street corners selling it, but its popularity in America imploded when the British government levied a special tax on teas destined for colonies. The colonies bocotted it, tea sales plummeted, and it ended in the famous Boston Tea Party of December 1773 where tea chests were dunked in the harbour, setting the stage for the American Revolution.
AND IT LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER....
Now, in the 21st Century, tea is a universal beverage, with a presence in millions of people's daily lives - a staple diet in some countries, a ritual in others, equivalent of a handshake for some, a way of telling time in England, and by far, the most powerful and popular beverage in the world after water.