Tea 101: The Brief History of Tea

If you were to trace the origins of tea you may be surprised to find that it does not come from Great Britain. Although ‘tea time’ is a daily ritual of the British, tea was actually discovered in China. Chinese Emperor Shen Nung accidently made the discovery in 2737 BC. At the time, the Emperor was sitting under a tree while his servant was boiling drinking water. Some leaves fell from the tree into the water. Shen Nung was an herbalist and decided to give the infusion a try. The tree that the leaves came from was the Camellia sinensis and the drink enjoyed by the Emperor is what we now call by the name tea.

Japanese monks who were introduced to the beverage while in China are credited with introducing tea to their homeland. It did not make its way to the West for several centuries and evidence of tea in history can be found in many instances. Containers for tea have been found in tombs dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) and it became popular as the national drink of China during the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD). It became so popular in the years that followed that a complete book on the topic was written in the 8th Century by a writer known as Lu Yu. The book was titled, ‘Tea Classic.’

Tea Comes To Europe
Traders and missionaries living in the East would bring tea back with them to their homeland but there was no real ‘explosion’ of tea in Europe until well into the 16th Century. The Dutch are credited with this although the Portuguese had been enjoying tea for several years prior to this. By the turn of the century, a trading post had been established on Java Island and it was in 1606 that Holland received their first shipment of tea from the Chinese island. It was soon after this that tea became a fashionable drink in Holland and it was from there that the popularity of the beverage spread to other parts of Europe.

Tea In Britain
The British East India Company controlled the importation of goods from outside Europe from 1600. Tea brought back by sailors on the company ships was very likely used as gifts. However, the first recorded mention of tea in Britain was in a London newspaper in September 1658. It was actually in the form of an advertisement that announced tea was now being sold at a coffee house in the city. The first coffee house in London was established six years before and the wording in the newspaper ad hinted that the drink was still somewhat of a curiosity. The turning point for tea in Britain was when Charles II married Catherine of Braganza. The bride, a Portuguese Princess, was a tea addict and thanks to her love of the beverage, it became a fixture in British culture.

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