The History of Tea

“Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete”.

-Kissa Yojoki (How to stay healthy by drinking tea) by Eisai, 1211.

Tea, or it’s botanical name ‘camellia sinensis’ is the second most popular beverage in the world, second only to water. It is estimated that every year around 2.5 million tons of tea leaves are produced and enjoyed around the globe.

The history of tea ‘camellia sinensis’ spans over thousands of years and across many different cultures. Teas long and fascinating past full of Ancient legends and rituals makes this much loved drink a special part of many countries past and traditions. Tea has played a significant role in Asian culture for centuries as a staple
beverage, medicine, and status symbol.

The origins of tea dates back thousands of years, with ancient records indicating that tea was first consumed in China way back in 2737 BC by Emperor and herbalist Shennong. The legend has it that when a leaf from a nearby wild tea bush fell into the Emperors cup of drinking water he discovered a very refreshing drink that ‘gave joy to the body and sparkle to the eye’. During the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE) tea became a popular drink. Tea was prepared differently to how we enjoy it now, it was compressed into bricks and ground into a powder with a stone mortar, then hot water was added. Bricks of tea were also used as currency. Tea production and preparation changed during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), to loose-leaf that was steamed. Then the Chinese discovered a better way to process their tea during the mid 13th century, when they started roasting and crumbling tea leaves. Tea drinking is a symbol of Chinese culture and a respected custom. Today, China has 8 million tea growers and is the biggest producer of tea in the world.

During the Sui Dynasty (589-618 AD) tea was introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks. It became a drink of the royal classes when Emperor Saga encouraged the growth and cultivation of tea plants in Japan. Green tea became a staple among cultured people in Japan, enjoyed by aristocracy and Buddhist priests alike. The tea ceremony of Japan (chanoyu) was introduced from China in the 15th century by Buddhists monks. This semi-religious social custom traditionally performed with matcha green tea, reflects on being in harmony with nature, purity, and tranquility.

Drinking tea became popular in Britain during the 17th century with the British East India Company brining back tea from China. Tea was initially promoted as a edicinal tonic however soon became a popular drink among Royalty and the higher class. The British loved sweet black tea, often with milk.

Tea was first introduced into India in 1836 by the British in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on tea. Commercial production of tea in India did not begin until the arrival of the British East India Company, when large plantations were established in Darjeeling, Assam, Ceylon. Today India is one of the biggest tea producers in the world, with well known teas like Darjeeling and Assam being grown only in India.

Lisa Guy

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