The History Of Tea

Drinking tea plays such a central part in our lives, it is such a universal phenomenon with millions of people the world over enjoying their tea on a daily basis, that it’s hard to imagine a world without tea and yet while the Eastern world has been using tea for more than 4500 years, for most of this time tea was unknown in the Western world.
Tea was only introduced into the West a relatively recent 400 years ago. Discovered in China, tea has exerted a profound influence on societies and cultures throughout the world so that there are unique ceremonies in various cultures and most parts of the world have social etiquettes concerning the preparation and drinking of tea as well as social customs regarding how, when and where to drink it. Many myths, legends, poems and proverbs surround tea and maintain its mystique. Tea has always accompanied and even influenced the unfolding of key historical events as well as maintaining a presence whenever economic, technological or cultural developments to k place. Today tea enjoys an unparalleled and enduring popularity. The story of tea is truly intertwined with the story of Mankind.

The Origin Of The Word "Tea"

The Chinese originally called it “Kia”. As far as is know it was during the course of the 6th century AD that the name evolved into "Cha". On its arrival in the West it became Té which is still the name for tea in many countries.

The Discovery Of Tea

Legend has it that tea was discovered by the Chinese Emperor, Shan Nong, in 2737 B.C.
The Emperor had a habit of boiling his drinking water. One day while he was in his garden a few tea leaves fell by chance into his boiling water which then gave off a rich, alluring aroma. The Emperor, upon drinking this brew, discovered it to be refreshing and energizing.
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.

Since the discovery of tea and over the centuries the tradition of drinking tea brewed from fresh tea leaves in boiling water has been firmly entrenched in China

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.

How Tea Arrived In The West

Tea arrived in Europe via Dutch and Portuguese sailors at the beginning of the 17th century. They had trade relations with China and brought the tea to Britain and Holland at the outset, where it was sold at auctions and became very popular among the aristocracy and the wealthy. The beverage's initial high price prevented it from circulating among the western population at large.

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, for instance, the development of fast sail boats such as the "Clipper", which shortened the time it took to sail from China to Europe and made it possible to provide shipments of fresh tea to the west.
British companies established for the importing tea, such as the "John Company" and "The East India Trade Company" became trade monopolies, unprecedented in size and power, and were ordained by the royal family and empowered to operate in any way necessary to ensure the continuous supply of this popular drink. At the beginning of the 18th century, with the expansion of tea imports to the west and the consequent decrease in its price, tea became a common product enjoyed by all sectors of the population.

Tea In America: The Boston Tea Party

At the beginning of the 18th century, tea arrived in Northern America, quickly becoming a desirable drink there as well. In New York and Boston, London-style teahouses started developing, where the drink was sold to the general public. At around that time, the British Empire decided to place taxes on the tea supply to the colonies of North America who were under their power. This decision greatly angered the American settlers who decided to boycott the taxed products in protest. Whenever the British ships arrived at the harbors laden with tea, the settlers would start demonstrations which forced the ships to leave without unloading their wares. The most famous occurrence in this regard was named the "Boston Tea Party", during which a group of settlers boarded one of the ships anchored in the Boston harbor and started throwing hundreds of crates of tea from its deck into the sea. England retaliated to this by sending military forces to the harbor and shutting it down. This event marked the begini ng of the American War of Independence.

Tea In The 20th Century

A significant rise in tea consumption resulted from the appearance of tea bags at the beginning of the 20th century. The inventor of tea bags, a New York tea merchant by the name of Thomas Sullivan, had a custom of sending tea samples in white silk bags to his customers, and they were intrigued by this new ground-breaking product. Upon the appearance of tea bags, the price of tea was lowered. The possibility of drinking tea without special brewing utensils made tea suitable for mass consumption, turning it into the world's most prevalent hot beverage.

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.

The rise in tea consumption in the occident results from three primary reasons:

  • The rise in popularity of the back-to-nature trend and an aspiration to lead a healthy, simple life. Tea, as a natural drink with evident health benefits, fits in perfectly with this lifestyle.
  • A massive immigration of Asians to the west. The Asian immigrants disseminated their strongly based the tea cultures in the western countries.
  • Western travelers in the east, who brought with them tidings of tea upon their return.

Today the scope of the tea industry's worldwide economic activity stands at more than three billion dollars a year. Tea is grown and produced in more than 40 countries worldwide.
Every year, more than 2.5 million tons of tea is produced around the world, most of it in Asian countries.