Tea Throughout History
Updated: Feb 26, 2019
It is generally accepted that the origin of #Tea traces back to the period of 2737BC. It is impossible to say for sure how tea first became known, as legends and stories have developed over the centuries. The most popular story tells of the Emperor of China, Shennong, considered to be the father of Chinese Medicine and agriculture, who would venture out into the forests of China cataloging all he saw. One day while he was boiling water, some say to purify it, a leaf drifted into his pot. Ever the scholar of his day, he drank the infused water and his spirit was lifted and his body energized. Because of this, China is considered by many to be the home and birthplace of tea.
Who can say if the story is historically accurate, but it is the beginning of the beverage we have all come to love. Now, over 5,000 years later Millennials are preparing tea in much the same manner.
The First Tea Book
The first title of Tea Master is credited to Lu Yu in 760AD, who wrote the first book on tea called the Cha Ching (“Classic of Tea”). Lu Yu is considered to be the Patron Saint of Tea.
He was adopted by a Buddhist Monk and trained at an early age on how to properly prepare a pot of tea. His love for the beverage took him on a twenty-year quest to learn everything he could about tea and to write his book, which became the standard for tea growers, merchants and the consuming public.
The Cha Ching contained detailed descriptions about the tea plant, cultivation methods, manufacturing styles, proper brewing techniques, water quality, the culture of tea, tea rituals, and the health benefits of tea. Written more than a millennium ago, this book is still in print and can be purchased on Amazon!
Japanese Buddhist monks in the 9th century were the first to drink tea in Japan, having learned about it during envoys to China. In 1191, Zen Priest Elsai brought seeds back to Kyoto which became the basis for Uji tea. Soon after, tea cultivation spread throughout Japan’s prefectures. In Japan, tea is much more than just a beverage, it is an integral part of the culture and is a symbol of hospitality.
In Japan, tea is much more than just a beverage, it is an integral part of the culture and is a symbol of hospitality.
Ethics & Morals
Chado (way of tea) is a code of ethics and morals in relation to tea from the 15th century. Though references to tea can be traced back to the early 800s, it wouldn’t be until the 1100s that tea production began, and not until the 16th century before tea production really took off. Back then, sencha referred to all boiled infused teas, while today, #sencha refers to a high-quality spring harvest tea.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony, Chanoyu (water for tea), can trace its heritage back to the 9th century, it has changed and modified over the centuries. Today’s #Chanoyu comes from the 16th century. Though many people are aware of Chanoyu, Senchado (way of sencha) is not as commonly known. Senchado is a method of steeping high end teas, like Gyokuro, without the constraints and rules of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Say What About the Dutch?
The British have had a long-entangled relationship with tea throughout history, though it was not the British who first brought tea to England, but the Dutch in the 1650s.
Tea in Britain mainly came from China. In the 19th century, tea had become very expensive to purchase from China, so opium (though illegal) was used to trade with China since the British were growing opium in Assam, India. The Opium Wars were battled over the exportation of tea out of China. Luckily for the British, tea was already growing wild in Assam, India. But it took over 50 years before this new tea was able to be cultivated. Sri Lanka (Ceylon under British control) was a coffee producing country until the 1860s, when a coffee rust fungus wiped out most of the crops, forcing growers to find new products to cultivate. The first English tea factories were established in the early 1870s due to the success of a Scotsman, James Taylor, who in the late 1860s successfully produced black tea following the traditions of India.
This Party's in St. Louis
The US, though a rather young tea drinking country (historically speaking), has made its mark on tea. Most think of the Boston Tea Party of 1773, but the US invented iced tea and tea bags/sachets. Cold tea was around prior to the Civil War, but its popularity didn’t hit mainstream until the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
Richard Blechynden, director of the East India Pavilion, was fed up with the lack of interest in his hot tea on such a hot Missouri day. In an attempt to serve more of his tea, he chilled it through pipes immersed in ice, and as they say, the rest is history.
In 1908, an American tea importer, Tom Sullivan, would ship out samples of his tea in silk pouches. Though not intended to be a tea bag, his customers loved them and asked for more. In 1915, Roberta Lawson and Mary Molaren filed a patent for a “tea leaf holder” made of gauze or muslin for steeping a single cup of tea.
Tea is the second most consumed beverage, next to water in the world. No wonder it has woven itself into our history for the past 5,000 years!
Thirsty for More?
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