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history of tea

Discovered in China, tea has exerted a profound influence on societies and cultures throughout the world. The tea story begins in China around 5,000 years ago. the legendary Emperor of China and inventor of agriculture and Chinese medicine was drinking a bowl of boiling water some time around 2737 BC when a few leaves were blown from a nearby tree into his water, changing the color. As a scientist, the emperor became intrigued by the liquid, drank some, and found it very appetizing and was pleasantly surprised by its flavor and restorative properties. He immediately gave the command that tea bushes to be planted in the gardens of his palace.

Thus the custom of brewing fresh tea leaves in hot water began and it quickly spread. After the creation of tea, consumption spread throughout the Chinese culture. In 800 A.D. Lu Yu wrote the first book on tea, the Cha Ching. His work was so explicit and complete that it projected him into near sainthood within his own lifetime. Tea production in China, historically, was a laborious process, conducted in distant and often poorly accessible regions. This led to the rise of many apocryphal stories and legends surrounding the harvesting process.

Until the fifth century A.D., tea was primarily used as a remedy, due to the medicinal benefits attributed to it. From this time onwards, China’s upper class adopted the fashion of presenting packages of tea as highly esteemed gifts and of enjoying drinking tea at social events and in private homes. At around the same time the Chinese tea ceremony began to develop and the tidings of tea began to spread as it reached Japan.

Advent of tea in the west

Tea arrived in Europe via Dutch and Portuguese sailors at the beginning of the 17th century. The tea trade was a significant factor in establishing connections between east and west. In China, tea leaves were used as a substitute for coins. In Europe, tea was used as a symbol of high status and as a stimulus for many technological developments. The locals had to make do with tea dust to make their brew. Finding the flavor strong, they experimented with milk and spices, sugar etc. thus their was a whole new evolution to the methodology adopted for the preparation of tea

At the beginning of the 18th century, tea arrived in Northern America, quickly becoming a desirable drink there as well. However the British later levied taxes on the tea commodities which greatly angered the general public. They exposed their frustration in the form of demonstrations and boycott movements that denied the ships carrying the tea items unload. One famous case was that which occurred in Boston, where a group of locals boarded one of the cargo ships and threw all their shipments into the sea. This famous occurrence in this regard was named the “Boston Tea Party”

A significant rise in tea consumption resulted from the appearance of tea bags at the beginning of the 20th century. With the various varieties of tea discovered, it is only but obvious that the entire world delves itself in the rich aroma of the brew. During the 20th century, the source of tea crops spread throughout the world, from Japan to Africa and South America. Towards the end of the 20th century, an additional rise in the western world’s tea consumption occurred and also in evidence was a demand for quality teas.

India, which is the largest producer of tea (off late, its position has been displaced by china) did not drink tea for pleasure till the British introduced the culture. It was primarily considered a medicinal herb and with the British establishing tea plantations along the borders of Assam, the tea culture was thereby introduced in India.

Whatever be the origin, tea has now spread across classes and ethnicity to every of the world and continues to evolve even as you read this.

ritu naiya