The Ancient Legend of Tea:
A weary farmer was travelling around the forest looking for food and scavenging. The farmer came across what he thought was edible greens and herbs. Instead the tired and hungry farmer accidentally poisoned himself over 72 times. Faced with death, the farmer seemed unlikely to survive as the poison attacked his body. As the farmer was nearing death he was saved! A faithful tea leaf drifted by the wind landed in his mouth. The farmer chewed on the tea leaf and as he chewed the tea leaf revived him. The tea leaf helped him rid his body of the poison.
As the legend goes, that was how tea was first discovered, leading to the now long Tea history.
Tea History in China:
Ancient documentation of tea suggest tea has been consume for over 6000 years. Or to broaden the perspective, 1500 years before the great pyramids of Egypt were build.
Tea has not always been drunk like it is today. It is the same tea plant that is grown all over the world today that was consumed over 6000 years ago. Although, tea has only been consumed as a hot drink for the last 1500 years. Tea did not originate as a drink but as a food to eat. The leaves of the tea plant were used to eat in meals. Tea leaves would be eaten as a vegetable. Or the leaves would be mushed up with grain porridge and eaten as a meal.
For many years China held a monopoly over tea. In the 14th century, along with porcelain and silk, Tea was china’s biggest export and traceable good. As Tea spread around the world, tea helped boost China’s power, influence and a stronger economy at the time.
Tea Enters Japan:
In the 9th century- Japan was introduced to tea when a Japanese monk brought the first tea plant to Japan.
Europe Tea History:
In the Early 1600’s Dutch traders brought tea to Europe in large quantities.
Queen Catherine of Braganza, a noble woman of Portugal has be attributed to tea becoming popular with the British royalty. Queen Catherine married King Charles the Second and brought with her the love of tea that was introduce to the British noble people at the time.
It was around the 1660’s where tea was becoming largely popular in Great Britain. By the 1700s Great Britain was expanding it empire. As Great Britain expanded around the world, so did tea, being traded and consumed with expansion of Britain. As the love of tea grew, tea was traded for 10 times the amount of coffee. Despite the growth in tea fame and popularity, it was still only being grown in China.
The demand for tea in Europe led to steep competition between traders. Tea demand led to the development of boats, trade routes and advances in methods of trades to try and export tea the quickest. The sailboat ‘the clipper’, the fastest boat at the time, was designed, constructed and built with the desire to export tea the quickest.
Tea Traded for Opium:
The darker side of Tea history includes drug trade, growing drug dependence, war and eventually theft. Through this negative aspect of Tea history, tea becomes available to the commoner.
Initially tea was traded for silver. This initially worked well for both Great Britain and China, but soon became too expensive for Great Britain. So instead there was a shift from trading tea for silver, to trading tea for opium.
Opium is made from collection the juice of the plant the opium poppy. It was reddish brown in color and heavily scented. For the era opium was used as a narcotic and addictive drug. This led to problems for China, as it led to great addiction to Opium throughout the country. Due to the growing dependence on the drug, in 1839 a Chinese official ordered for large shipments of British Opium to be destroyed. This signified standing up against the power of Great Britain, and its’ control with opium addiction.
This triggered the first opium war- Initiating in 1839 and finishing in 1842. War erupted all along the coast of China, until the province of where Hong Kong is was defeated by Great Britain. Trading of tea between China and Great Britain began again but on unfavorable terms for China. The war weakened China’s economy for over a century.
Tea Leaves China
Following the war on opium and tea trade, the British East India Company wanted to be able to grow tea elsewhere to China. Growing the plant elsewhere would lower Great Britain, and the rest of the world’s need for exportation from China. Increasing the competition of tea exportation with increase Great Britain’s control over the tea market.
The British East India Company hired a botanist, Robert Fortune. Fortune disguised himself and took a long and dangerous journey through the mountains of China. Eventually Fortune smuggled both Tea plants and experienced tea workers out of China into India and then onto all around the world.
Stealing the tea from China led to tea becoming accessible to the commoner. Tea is now the second largest consumed beverages- behind water.
Now head back to History of Tea to learn more about other aspects of Tea History!