The History of Tea - The Beginning
The legend of tea begins with Shen Nung, an early Chinese emperor who ruled over 5,000 years ago.
He was a skilled scientist and patron of the arts, and very conscious of his health. While he was boiling water one day, (he boiled water as a hygienic precaution) a gust of wind came by and blew some leaves from a nearby bush into his pot of water. Being that he was a scientist, he observed that the water turned a brownish color and that it must have meant something chemical happened to the water. He decided to try it and after finding it very satisfying, tea officially became a beverage. The history of tea was literally started by accident. You can read more in our recent article - Ancient Chinese Tea.
The History of Tea - The First Book
After spreading through the Chinese culture for centuries, the first book on tea was finally written in 800 A.D. During his mid-life, Lu Yu spent 5 years in seclusion and contemplated his life. As he tried to draw meaning out of it, he began to write down everything he observed, learned and practiced about the various methods of tea preparation and cultivation in ancient China. Thus the first book about tea, Ch'a Ching, was created. Today there are
The History of Tea in Japan
Japan was first introduced to tea when the Buddhist priest Yeisei observed the incredible benefits of tea for religious meditation. Once tea was introduced in Japan, it spread like wildfire through the royal court, monasteries, and other sections of Japanese society. Yeisei became known as the "Father of Tea" in Japan. Tea became so popular in the Japanese culture that it became an art form, which led to the creation of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Lafcadio Hearn, an Irish-Greek journalist-historian was one of the very few foreigners to be granted Japanese citizenship during this era. He wrote that the Japenese Tea Ceremony requires years of experience and practice to graduate, and yet the whole idea consists of being able to make and pour a cup of tea in the most perfect, polite, graceful, and most charming manner possible.
Things weren't always so glamorous for tea in China however. The more popular this ceremony became, the more the idea of this original zen concept was lost. After time, the tea ceremony became corrupted with wealthy families having "tea tournaments" in which they would compete against each other for prizes for having named the correct type of tea blend.
Things only started to turn for the better when three Zen priests restored the original idea of tea to the Japanese culture. Their names were Ikkyu, Murata Shuko, and Sen-no Rikkyu. After decades of fighting to restore the tradition, they finally succeeded and the Japanese Tea Ceremony was restored to it's original idea.
History of Tea in Europe
By the time Europe began hearing rumors of tea in the early 1600's, they were just starting to become advanced in their navy. When tea landed in Europe, Rembrandt was only six years old and Elizabeth I was still alive. At this time, tea was very expensive, costing over $100 per pound, which made it a delicacy that was only available to the extremely wealthy. As the amount of tea which was imported increased, the price fell and it was now available to places like apothecaries and common food shops throughout Holland. However this didn't happen until 1675.
As consumption rose, the health benefits of tea began to become controversial between doctors and university authorities. This controversy lasted from 1635 to roughly 1657, and during this period France and Holland consumed the most tea.
This tea craze swept throughout Europe, and it became a common thing that people now had to drink. Tea sets were now coming out, and it was starting to be served in restaurants. People were now having "tea parties" outside their houses with a few guests.
History of Tea in America
The history of tea in America doesn't begin until 1650 or so, when the Dutch were trading with the western world. The first tea was brought to America by a colonist named Peter Stuyvesant. Tea was widely accepted in America, and it was drank more in the small colonies of America than throughout all of England combined.
England's History of Tea
The first batches of tea didn't reach England until about 1652-1654, due to the fact that they weren't trading in the Chinese or East Indian trading routes until then. When it hit England however, it spread rapidly and replaced ale as the national drink of England. As early as 1600, Elizabeth I founded the John Company in order to promote Asian trade. Now that tea was introduced to England, they finally had a leg to stand on. The John Company became the most powerful monopoly to ever exist in the world, and it's ultimate power was based on the importation of tea.
Afternoon Tea is Born
As tea importation rose radically throughout England, from 40,000 pounds in 1699 to 240,000 pounds in 1708, it was beginning to get through to all levels of society.
During this time, Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, began to invite friends over for an afternoon meal in the Belvoir Castle. The meal consisted of small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, sweets, and tea. This common practice was soon widely accepted and practiced throughout the country. The tea would be heated up and made in the kitchen, and brought out to the hosts and their guests to be drank. The purpose of these meetings was to relax and have good conversations.
Tea Affects More Parts of the Culture
As tea became more popular, it began to diffuse into different parts of European culture. They began to have different types of tea with different meals in the day, coffee shops began selling tea as well as coffee, and the wealthy began to create "tea gardens" in their yards for decoration and to enjoy their own tea.
History of Tea in RussiaRussia began their interest in tea as early as 1618, but since the cost was so high to get it imported, only the wealthy could attain it. They had to make a trip which was 11,000 miles long and took over sixteen months to complete, so getting tea wasn't the easiest task in the world. However, by the time 1796 came around and Catherine the Great died, importing tea was starting to become easier, prices dropped, and it became available to the middle class. The Russians tend to favor tea which is very strong and highly sweetened with sugar, honey, or jam.
Tea remains a powerful influence in Russian society today, and along with Vodka, is still the the national drink of Russia.
The History of Tea Starts To Get Rough In America
After the French and Indian War was completed, the colonists of America became very upset because the cost of the war was mostly put on them. Since they had to pay for the war, England began putting strict tax laws in the colonies. They put higher taxes on newspapers, tavern licenses, legal documents, marriage licenses, and docking papers. The colonists rebelled, which caused Parliament to put an even higher tax on everything as punishment.
History of Tea - The Boston Tea Party
The final straw happened after this extra tax was put on them. The colonists rebelled again by openly purchasing large amounts of imported tea, which was mostly Dutch in origin. The John Company started to become deeply in debt, and eventually joined forces with the East India Company in order to recoup their losses from the tea. However, the colonists got wind of this plan and devised a plan of their own. The colonists began to openly convey at meetings to boycott the drinking of tea until they got their rights back, and on December 16 they threw hundreds of pounds of tea into the Boston Harbor. You can read more about this interesting bit of tea history in our recent article, Boston Tea Party.
History of Tea - The Opium Wars
Now that America was refusing to get tea from England, the John Company needed to find another way to recoup the money they were losing. They then turned to growing opium in China, for opium has an addictive nature and they figured the sales would be lifelong.
Chinese emperors obviously didn't want this, and tried their best to force distance between England and China. The Opium wars broke out because England wanted free rights to trade opium, and by 1842 they had enough military advantages to enable them to sell opium in China undisturbed until 1908.
Not wanting England to succeed like they were, America fought back once again. They built newer, faster ships which outpaced England's ships, and forced the English navy to update their fleet. Three gentlemen by the names of Stephen Girard, John Jacob, and Thomas Perkins were the millionaires who started this quest. Between the three of them they were able to fund critical loans to the American government to keep it afloat, gain the respect of China, and break the English tea monopoly that was corrupting the tea business.
The History of Tea - Iced Tea And Teabags Are CreatedAfter this time, America began to grow more powerful in every way. By 1904, they were ready for the world to their their development at the St. Louis World's Fair. Trade exhibitors came from around the world to show off their product. One merchant named Richard Blechynden planned to give away free samples of his tea products, but a heat wave hit and nobody wanted to drink the hot tea. Not knowing what to do, he decided to dump ice in the tea, and "Iced Tea" was born. Iced tea became the hit of the fair from pure luck.
The history of tea was sealed when bagged tea was invented only four years after iced tea came out. This happened when Thomas Sullivan realized that the restaurants he sold his "wrapped tea" to were selling it in their restaurants still in the bag, to avoid a mess of tea leaves. Thus "tea bags" were invented.
There is a big difference between the tea bags you can get in a supermarket and high-quality tea bags you can get from a few select stores online. Read my page on why you need high-quality tea bags.
Tea Turns Social
Beginning in the late 1880's, fine hotels began to serve tea service in tea rooms and tea courts. Originally planned for conversations, Victorian ladies and their partners would meet for conversations while having a cup of tea. This became a sign of elegance in cities like New York and Boston.
By 1910 hotels around the country began to host "tea dances". These tea dances became a craze throughout the country, although widely shunned by older folks. These tea dances were noted for being a place where young girls could come to have some fun and possibly meet a man to begin courting.
The History Of Tea - Today
Today tea is more popular than ever, and is the second most consumed drink in the world, losing only to water. Scientific studies are coming out regularly which are showing the health benefits of tea, which perfectly fits the idea of people trying to live more healthy lives. Tea is no longer expensive to buy, and is considered by some to be not just a drink, but a part of their lives.