“Tea” is often thought of as being quintessentially British.
Well, we have been drinking it for over 350 years. But in fact the origins of tea goes back much further….
Tea Drinking was first established in China in the 28th Century BC it was around 4,250 years after this that anyone encountered tea in Europe.
Tea Originated in China as a medicinal beverage possessing health qualities. Chinese legends attribute the creation of Tea to the Chinese Emperor Shen Nang in 2737 BC, he was believed to be sitting beneath a Camellia Sinensis tree whilst his servant boiled drinking water, when leaves from the Camellia Sinensis tree blew into the water. Shen Nang was a well known herbalist, he decided to try this infusion of the Camellia Sinensis leaves in the boiling water that his servant had accidentally created. This transformed the taste of the water which he truly enjoyed the result. Soon after people began to boil tea leaves for consumption into a concentrated liquid without the addition of other laves or herbs, thereby using tea as a bitter yet stimulating drink, rather than as a medicinal concoction. Thus resulting into the drink we now call “Tea”. Containers for tea have been found in tombs dating back to the Han Dynasty from 206 BC – 220 AD. In a medical text written by Hua Tuo in the 3rd Century AD stated ” to drink bitter t’u constantly makes one think better”.
The drinking of tea was common in the Qin Dynasty & became widely popular & established in the Tang Dynasty from 618 -906 AD as the national drink of China. During the Tang Dynasty a writer called Lu Yu (also known as “Tea Saint”) wrote the first book entirely about tea, “Ch’a Ching” or “Tea Classic”. Soon after its popularity then spread to Korea, Japan & Vietnam.
The spread of tea cultivation throughout China &Japan is largely accredited to the movement of Buddhist priests throughout the regions. The book by Lu Yu inspired the Zen Buddhist missionaries to create the form of tea service that would later be introduced to imperial Japan as the Japanese tea ceremony, “Chanoyu” in the 6th Century AD.
Tea was first introduced to Japan by Japanese Buddhist Monks who had travelled to china study during the Nara Period 710 – 794. Tea was a luxury product available in small amounts to priests & noblemen as medicinal beverage. During the Muromachi Period 1333 – 1573 tea gained popularity amongst all social classes. In Japan big tea drinking parties would be held, where they would play games whereby the participants after drinking from the cups of tea, which were being passed along would guess the names of the tea & where they came from. Collecting & showing off prized tea utensils was also popular amongst the upper classes.
Around the same time a more refined version of “Tea Parties” was attended by only a few people in a small room, where the host served the guests tea, allowing them greater intimacy. These were Zen-inspired & had a greater emphasis on etiquette & spirituality development. It is from these gatherings that the “Tea Ceremony” has its origins. Tea drinking has become a vital part of Japanese culture, as seen in the development of the “Tea Ceremony”.
Tea was introduced to Portuguese priests & merchants in China during the 16th Century AD which at that time tea was referred to as Chá. The first European to personally encounter tea & write about it was the Portuguese, Jesuit Father Jasper de Cruz in 1560. In 1750 tea experts travelled from China to the Azores in Portugal & planted tea, along with jasmine & mallow, to give it aroma & distinction. Both green & black tea grow on the islands, which are the main suppliers to continental Portugal.
Tea was first introduce to England from China in the Mid 17th Century by merchants & aristocrats who imported small amounts of tea into Britain via Holland & Portugal. Turkish coffee & hot chocolate made there début in England around the same time. Tea had been drunk on the continent prior to its arrival in England as Lady Arlington & Lady Offory developed a taste for it when they visited Holland & brought some home with them. In 1662 tea drinking became established as an accepted practice when Charles II’s Married Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza who’s favourite drink was tea.
Tea was not consumed widely in Britain until the 18th Century & remained expensive until the end of the 18th Century. As the tax on tea was so expensive around this period tea smuggling grew which led to Britain’s masses being able to afford & consume tea. Eventually British government eventually extinguish the tax on tea, thereby eliminating the tea smuggling trade by 1785.
The price in Europe for tea steadily fell during the 19th century, especially after Indian tea began to arrive in large quantities. In Britian & Ireland by the late 19th century tea had become an everyday beverage for all levels of society.
What is your favourite tea? or perhaps you prefer coffee? Fruity Strawberry Teas are my favourite.
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