History of Tea (Pt 1)

Legend has it that the first cup of tea was brewed and consumed by Emperor Shen Nung, whose reign covered from 2737-2697 BC. He was boiling water to drink and was using branches from the wild tea bush as fuel. Suddenly, a gush wind blew some of the leaves into the pot and he found the flavour of the infused water pleasing. However, according to Tom Standge in his book A History of the World in Six Glasses, this myth was created after tea came into use.The first recorded mention of tea is 1st century AD. Also a book of herbal remedies, Pen ts’ao, which mentions tea and is credited to Shen Nung, was not published until 7th century AD.  Also it’s believed that he drank white tea because its takes the least amount to make.


By the 4th century tea is so popular, the Chinese were cultivating it instead of picking leaves off wild plants, which originated from the jungles of eastern Himalayas. During the Tang dynasty, China’s golden age, tea’s popularity soared. Tea in brick form became currency and was use so until modern times. The first tax on tea was introduced in 780.

Its spread was encouraged by monks (Buddhism and Taoism) and through the Silk Road around 9th century AD. The monks grew tea for medicinal purposes and to help with meditation. Tea seeds were most likely brought to Korea, from China, by Buddhist monks during the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.-A.D. 668). Tea was introduced to Japan in the 6th century. The following centuries saw one of the greatest influences of China on Japaneses culture through the importation of tea plants and adaption of the tea ceremony.  In 1191, the Buddhist monk, Eisai, involved Japan’s technique in cultivating, harvesting, preparing and drinking after he came back from a trip to China. Its popularity grew when it was used to heal shogun Minamoto Sanetomo. Nearly everyone grew a few bushes in their garden.


Black tea’s origins are unknown but it appeared during the Ming dynasty. The Chinese regarded black tea only suitable for foreigners, who were considered barbaric. Europeans were ignorant that all tea comes from the same plant species and asked for a black tea bush.


The first shipment of commercial tea, which would have been green, was brought to Europe by the Dutch in 1610. By the 1650’s it had spread to England courtesy of Catherine Braganza, Charles II’s wife. Her dowry included the trading posts of Tangier and Bombay (ie Mumbai) and the right to trade with Portuguese possessions. This was the beginning of Britain’s obsession with tea and increasing its power to get it.It’s popularity and important are summed up in a Better to be Chinese proverb which says ‘deprived of food for three days than of tea for one’.


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