The History of Tea – Part 1

From China To Japan To Europe

Obviously, a good coffee house or cafe not only has to serve a respectable selection of good coffees, but their tea offerings also have to be pretty good too. There were tea shops all over the world before coffee actually was invented, but as coffee became more popular this traditional drink lost some of its popularity.

The History of Tea

Tea was probably discovered by the Chinese as a medical drink way back in the 3rd Century AD. A story is often retold about the emperor Shen Nung who happened to be drinking hot water under a tree, when some leaves blew off and landed in his cup. The tree was a Camellia Sinensis and the resulting concoction was named tea.

Scholars and tea lovers around the world have not proven if this story is true, but it is known and has been recorded that tea was being consumed centuries before anywhere else in China. And it was in the Tang dynasty (618–906 AD) that tea became China’s national drink.

Tea in Europe

Europeans started to dabble in drinking tea in the late 16th Century, when the first mentions of tea being consumed in Europe are recorded. It was the Portuguese that brought tea back from the East, as they were living and working there as missionaries and traders. But the first Europeans to actually start importing tea were the Dutch, and at the turn of the 17th Century they established trade with Java. Tea then became a very popular drink in Holland, it became really popular among the wealthy who could afford this expensive imported commodity.

Tea in Britain

Tea has long been associated with the British, but they had yet to start to become a nation of tea drinkers. Since the turn of the 16th Century the British East India Company was one of the most powerful trading companies in the world, it more or less had a monopoly of all trade outside Europe. And it is very likely that these trading ships bought tea back as gifts for loved ones back home. The first mention of tea in Britain was in 1658, it was an advert in a newspaper announcing the China Drink or Tcha as it was also called.

It was an actual royal occasion that really cemented tea drinking as a habit in Britain, the wedding between Catherine of Braganza who was a well-known Portuguese tea addict and Charles II. Tea became fashionable at court, so the East India capitalized on this and the company began importing tea into Britain, with their first order for 100lbs of China tea to be shipped from Java in 1664.

In part two of this blog we look at the rise of tea smuggling in Britain to avoid import taxes and the early thoughts of tea, health and medicine. Also the continued popularity and rise in consumption among the populace, which spawned a new type of fast ship the Tea Clipper, so the tea would arrive fresher and quicker to keep up with demand, this also meant revenues would be higher.