Tea is the world’s most widely consumed beverage. Notably, it comes from the tropical plant Camellia Senensis. In general, this legendary drink has been interlinked with the concepts of spirituality and philosophy. The Japanese whisk tea for ceremonies. Consequently, the British add milk with it. The Irish prefer black tea. Tibetans add salt and yak butter with it. Russians use lemons. Then again, the Indian subcontinent serves it with milk, sugar, and spices. Tea has a rich legacy. Its heritage can be found up to thousands of years. This delicious beverage shaped world politics, economy, society as well as slavery of colonies.
How was tea discovered initially?
Our story originates in China around 2750 BC. Important to realize, tea was more of a medicinal drink during this time. There is a popular legend centering emperor Shen Nung. He was sitting by the shade of a wild tree. While boiling drinking water, a breeze was flowing. This breeze flowed some leaves with it. It fell into the pot. When the emperor tasted it, he found a delicious flavor. So, he ordered his people to start cultivating it. To clarify, people regarded Shen Nung as the ‘Legendary Father of Tea’ with time.
Tea became popular in China from the 4th century to the 8th century. In this period, people drank tea not only for medicinal purposes but also for its refreshment. Plantations spread all over China. Tea merchants became filthy rich. The Chinese empire strictly controlled the preparation and cultivation of tea.
By 722 BC-221 BC, the Chinese started brewing tea leaves. They added ginger, tangerine peel, scallion, and cornel. It became a part of their food.
Meanwhile, in 420 – 589 BC, tea drinking became a Chinese tradition. Consumption started rapidly and methods for cultivating tea started to be explored.
During Lu Yu’s Cha Jing’s time, tea cultivation became more prosperous instantly. In the years between 618 and 907 BC, the Tang Dynasty planted tea trees all over the country. Japanese monks traveled back to Japan with a few tea seeds. As a matter of fact, tea left the Chinese soils for the first time.
Journey of tea across continents
The Chinese were trading tea with Tibet, Turks, Arabs, and nomads of Indian Himalayas formerly by 8th century AD. Certainly, the Dutch introduced tea to Europe in 1610. Britain got introduced later around 1650. In 1657, Thomas Garway, an English proprietor took the initiative of offering tea to the public. It quickly outpaced wines and liquors. Britain had to impose a tax on tea for remedying the liquor situation.
Tea leaves suffered a great deal of damage on long voyages. Especially, from China to Europe it took a long time to go by sea. For maintaining its freshness and potency, tea producers had to find a way. They researched extensively on manufacturing, packaging, and transportation.
It must be remembered that they were transporting green tea. This was delicate for long journeys. With this in mind, black tea came into existence. Chinese growers found that black tea can be made by a special fermentation process. It kept its flavor and aroma longer than green tea. Thus, it was more suitable for exporting to Europe.
Russia’s tea history
In 1618, the Chinese gifted tea to Czar Alexis of Russia. Everyone was curious. Soon, it became popular nationwide. A caramel caravan route was created for transporting tea. This caravan covered 17,703 km. It took about 1.5 years to travel by camel. For this reason, 6000 camels entered Russia each year to satisfy the tea-hungry Russians. The camel caravan was replaced by the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1903. This reduced the time from 1.5 years to one week.
The Opium Wars
Tea consumption grew drastically. Britain could not keep a balance between demand and exports. Britain’s main export was cotton. The Chinese were more interested in silver. It became hard for Britain to search for more silver. They wanted a dramatic solution. So, what did they do? Sell drugs certainly.
As a matter of fact, Opium was already illegal in China. In the mid-19th century, one in every three Chinese adults was opium addicts. Britain earned revenues of modern 3.8 Billion dollars. This was in 1840. It rose to 22 Billion Dollars in 1879. This infusion of cash made Britain very wealthy. This also helped to build up a powerful navy.
In like manner, the Opioid crisis devastated China. In 1839, the Chinese emperor was fed up. He sent an official to Canton to deal with the crisis. He seized 1.2 million kg of Opium and threw it to the sea.
Surely, British gunboats opened fire on the Chinese. Thus, the First Opium war (1839 – 42) started. Chinese cities and armies were devastated. Chinese soldiers were opium addicted. They couldn’t put up a fight against the British. This forced the emperor to sign up for a peace treaty.
Birth of Hong Kong
The treaty was humiliating. China would pay for the discarded opium. They had to hand over Hong Kong to the British. The Canton system ended particularly. The Europeans could now use Canton and 4 other ports. The British started administering Hong Kong. They settled over there. Hong Kong had a fusion of Chinese and British culture.
Post- Opium China crisis
China was bankrupt and drug-addicted. In 1850, Hong Xiuquan rebelled against the Qing dynasty. He proclaimed himself as the brother of Jesus. The rebellion led to the deaths of 30 million people. The British and French took the opportunity of the rebellion. They launched a second Opium war in 1856. As a result, the emperor was forced to negotiate again.
More Chinese ports became open to foreigners. Opium was also legalized.
In 1800, Britain was importing enough tea. It was enough to provide 1kg of tea for each person. Tea became a staple food in Britain for all classes.
India’s tea history
The British realized that China was making all the profit from tea. They devised a cunning plan for the East India Company. By the 18th century, the British knew that tea plants grew wild in Assam. Britain soon focused on Assam. They could make a decent tea from Assam. Although, it was not as tasty as the Chinese one.
The Chinese government strictly forbade its citizens to share information on tea with foreigners. East India Company would have to steal it. Scottish botanist Robert Fortune acquired the job. His name was befitting for the job. After all, he was there to steal an entire industry.
Foreigners weren’t allowed to leave the trading ports. So, Fortune dressed up as a Chinese person. He would then visit tea farms and factories. After years of research, he left China. He brought back thousands of tea plants. Accordingly, he obtained all the necessary types of equipment . He also managed to bring 6 Chinese tea masters with him to India.
The tea industry flourished in India. It out produced China. Tea estates covered Assam. Tea plantations needed a lot of laborers. Bengal had a lot of cheap labor. Tea plantations required slaves. So, they were taken from other parts of India. The conditions of these plantations were horrific.
Owners did not provide sufficient food. Diseases were pervasive. There was no clean water. Child labor was rampant.
Thus, tea became widespread in India. It soon became popular with the Indian people. Today India is one of the largest consumers of tea. Indian tea companies have acquired major foreign tea enterprises. (Tetley and Typhoo)
The climate and high altitude of North India were good for tea cultivation. Right planting and cultivating techniques achieved exceptional quality.
North America’s Tea History
As a matter of fact, early North America was a tea-drinking continent. Europe colonized it. Europe passed it traditions and etiquette to America. Tea houses and porcelain tea accessories were popular in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.
In the second half of the 18th century, tea was the most valuable British export. The British government ordered “tea tax” to capitalize on its commodity in America. The tax rate gradually increased to 119%. It was more than double the initial cost of tea.
With this in mind, the American ports refused to let any dutiable goods. This led to the infamous Boston Tea Party. The British government had to close the Boston harbor. British troops arrived on American soil. In like manner, the American war of independence began. America started preferring coffee to tea. This was like an act of patriotism.
American progresses of tea
The United States contributed to significant changes of the tea industry. In 1904, the Saint Louis World Trade Fair was held. A group of tea producers organized a special tea pavilion. They provided hot cups of tea to the attendees. The temperature was unusually hot. This made the producers serve ice cubes with tea. Customers soon lined up to try the new drink. It is known today as Iced tea.
Today, the US consumes 50 billion glasses of iced tea per year. The US also invented tea bags accidentally. In 1908, a tea merchant sent samples of tea in silk bags to restaurants. He found out that the restaurants were brewing tea directly in silk bags. This saved time. This method of brewing became popular.
So, tea played a great role in political, social and national affairs.
We bring up some FAQs for the summary of tea.
Q. When was tea invented?
A.This is assumed to be 2737 BC according to some legends and myths.
Q. Who invented tea?
A. Emeperor Shen Nung of China
Q. Where did tea originate from?
A. Tea originated from China.
Use of tea
Historically, tea was used for medicinal purposes. It is used today for refreshment and removing tiredness. It helps to work relentlessly and energetically. This is a drink that many wake up to every morning. It’s a drink that can be enjoyed alone or with the company.
The fascinating part of tea is not who discovered it. It is more about how it crossed continents and influenced cultures.
Author : Farhan Sadeed
The author studied from CSE department of Military Institute of Science and Technology.
For research purpose, a lot of articles were used. The citations are provided below –
6. Also thanks to The history of Tea – Cogito (Youtube Channel)