Accoding to stories passed across generations, the history of tea began in 2737 B.C.E. The ruling Emperor Shen Nong was boiling water in his garden when suddenly, a leaf drifted from a nearby branch and fell into the pot. He ended up loving the taste and wanted to do more research on it. Some people believe that he found the water to have medicinal properties.
Another story about the origin of tea involved an Indian saint by the name of Prince Bodhi Dharma. He left India to preach Buddhism in China in the year 520. In order to teach the principles of meditation, the Prince sat down to meditate for nine years. During this time, he fell asleep. When he realized what he had done, he felt so miserable that he cut off his eyelids & threw them to the ground. Legend has it, the eyelids eventually grew into a tea plant.
GROWTH OF TEA:
Tea started to grow popular amongst the Chinese traders and was found to be grown around Southwest China, Tibet & Northern India. During the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), tea came to be regarded as China’s national drink. At this time, a Buddhist monk by the name of Lu Yu (733-804 AD) created a tea treatise which reflected Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian values. This is perhaps the first creation of the traditional tea ceremony.
During the Sung dynasty (960-1280 AD), tea gained further prominence and started to play a significant role in Chinese culture through references in art and poetry.
POPULARITY OF TEA SPREADS TO JAPAN:
It is known that a Buddhist monk by the name of Saicho introduced tea to Japan around the 9th century. He was studying in China and brought back seeds to Japan. Plantations that started in his monastery soon spread to other ones in Japan.
Japan is most famous for its tea called ‘Matcha’. A Zen monk Eisai is credited with the starting of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony known as ‘Chanoyu’ in Japanese. Matcha is an integral part of the tea ceremony which involves grinding the tea leaves in a stone mill to a fine powder. The powder is then both added with water or milk and whisked with a bamboo whisk called ‘Chasen’ to make green Matcha or Latte Matcha. Want to know more about the Japanese Tea Traditions?
CHINA AND JAPAN FURTHER DEVELOP TEA BREWING:
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) the brewing process of tea started undergoing a change with leaves being dried, rolled and heated in iron woks to stop the oxidation process. A Chinese monk brought this rolled tea to Japan in the 17th century. This was adapted by a tea merchant in Japan by the name of Soen Nagatani into a new Japanese method of steaming, drying and rolling green tea into a product called ‘Sencha’. By the time the Qing Dynasty ruled China (1636-1911), various varieties of teas such as yellow tea, oolong tea, white tea, black tea and flower tea were invented.
THE BOSTON TEA PARTY:
Like Europe, tea initially came to America in the mid-1600s through the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam. The colony was captured by England in 1664 and renamed New York, where the tea trade flourished amongst colonial women and wealthy colonists.
The Britishers stated applying heavy taxes under the Tea Act, which was protested vehemently by the citizens of America. They marked their protests by dressing up as native Americans and dumping the tea in the water off the East India Company’s trading ships.
TEA GAINS POPULARITY IN THE WEST:
Merchants, missionaries, travellers and explorers visiting East Asia brought back teas to Europe. Teas were transported via camel trains to Russia from China, which later came to be known as the famous Silk Road. Tea started gaining rapid popularity amongst the noblemen and aristocracy of Amsterdam, Paris and London. The aristocrat ladies of the England eventually developed a taste for it as a late afternoon drink. This drastically increased its popularity in England. Tea gained further royal legitimacy after Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, Portuguese royalty who loved tea and introduced it to the court. Want to drink tea like the Queen of England?
HE DOMINANCE IN TEA TRADE BY THE BRITISH EAST INDIA COMPANY:
The Imperial British Empire set up the British East India Company as its trading arm to work with China in the early 1700s. Eventually, they completely monopolised the trade, misused their powers and began exploiting the tea trade for massive profits with poor returns for the traders. They executed this by capturing land through their troops and enforcing their laws on other lands.
THE EMERGENCE OF DARJEELING & ASSAM TEAS FROM INDIA:
Around 1823, a British Army Major named Robert Bruce stumbled upon indigenous tea bushes growing in the Northeast region of Assam, India. With this discovery of tea, the British East India Company seized the opportunity to experiment with growing tea in not only Assam but also in Darjeeling, a region in Northeastern India at the foot of the Himalayas. A company employee, Dr. Campbell, first planted Darjeeling tea seeds in his garden at Beechwood, Darjeeling. The planting proved so successful that in 1847, the British government began developing a large number of tea estates in the area. The British were concerned on their total dependence on China for their teas and were looking for alternative sources. This marked the beginning of a new, flourishing tea industry in India and an end of the reliance on Chinese grown tea. Thus began a new chapter in the history of tea production.
WAS FOUGHT OVER TEA:
By the 18th century, the balance of trade between Britain and China was heavily tilted in the favour of China. The British along with other European countries traded large quantities of Chinese tea, silk and porcelain. In return, China did not want much of European goods. The purchases from China had to be made in exchange of gold and silver. In order to restrict this outflow, the East India Company started getting the Chinese population addicted to opium. They found it growing in abundance in many parts of India which could be procured cheaply. Over a period of time, the demand for opium started to rise. The East India Company started making payments for their imports through opium. The efforts of the Qing Dynasty to restrict the imports of opium led to armed conflicts between China and the West, now referred to as the Opium Wars.
It may have all started with a breeze but today, Tea remains a prime example of culture, history and traditions coming together. Around the world Tea is enjoyed in a number of ways – it is a social tradition. In England, High-Tea and some warm scones are customary, in India, a cup of chai is a morning staple and known world over. In Morocco, green tea with a generous helping of spearmint is a symbol of their history and hospitality. In every corner of the world, Tea is a celebrated drink – one that binds almost every social occasion.
The herbal, medicinal and feel-good properties of Tea have always been known to man, but have become mainstream only in the past decade. People around the world have embraced it in a multitude of ways. From Latte’s to Iced Teas, there aren’t enough ways to enjoy this drink