Many have stated that the legend of tea dates back to Chinese Emperor, Shen Nung. He sat relaxing one calm afternoon under a Camellia Sinensis tree, a well-known tree amongst tea lovers, while his servant boiled water. The emperor busy enjoying his leisure time, did not notice the leaves that dropped from the tree into his boiling water. The servant decided to serve the water as it was and the first cup of tea had been served. In a sense on unawareness, the servant had no idea that what he had served would become a world-wide sensation.
Yet a nation away, they swore that tea had originated from their land and was taken to China by Buddhist saint Bodhi Dharma when he left to preach Buddhism to China. The nation in reference is none other than the land of art and history, India.
These stories are for the most part considered to be fables, but the evidence of tea existing in these ancient cultures is plentiful. Many writings discovered in these nations mention tea being used as a medicinal drink or as a preserved food. Tea has also been mentioned in Vatsayana’s famous work “Kamasutra”. During the Tang Dynasty, a writer by the name of Lu Yu wrote a scholarly piece on tea. Though if a comparison was to be made, tea had been more prominent in the Chinese kingdom.
Japan had absorbed the tea culture, possibly from Buddhist monks who had brought it to their lands, and turned it into a “posh” item. It started off as just a beverage but eventually every upper class residence had a separate tearoom and teahouses were being started all around Japan.
Moving Away from the Chinese Monopoly
While China was willing to trade with Britain, it was not willing to reveal its secrets regarding the actual growing of tea. Britain decided they had to break this monopoly China had on tea.
Arguably one of the greatest corporate espionages of all time had taken place at this time. A Scottish botanist grew pigtails to blend in with the Chinese merchants and steal tea from China.
All the while tea had also been discovered in Assam, India. This tea, as compared to Chinese tea, had larger leaves and stronger liquor. Seeing as how at the time India belonged to the British, the British were glad to grow tea on Indian soil, which resulted in tea spreading through the Indian sub-continent.
As the smoke cleared up from this “tea war” between China and Britain, it was clear that Britain had China beat in tea production and simultaneously had broken the monopoly China had on tea as a whole.
Extending to the West
The spread of tea across the globe may not have happened had it not spread to the west first. Let us look through this history with all its twists and turns that it has to offer.
Tea was first introduced to the West by Dutch and Portuguese explorers who went off to find the “end of the world”. They sure didn’t find the end of the world but they found something that would keep us hooked until the end of time- they found tea! Now the issue was getting this tea back to their homelands back in Europe. Till that point in history the only tea being sold was green tea and in order for the tea to be transported to the West it had to be processed into black tea so that it would last longer. Wouldn’t you know it, the Chinese were the first to process black tea as well.
Originally in the West tea drinking was not popular except amongst the French. Even though today we know England to be the tea hub of Europe, at that time it was considered just a medicinal drink. It wasn’t until Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza, and her love for tea came to England that tea became highly regarded by the people of England. A craze had begun over black tea and it was now a commodity that was highly sought after.
The expensive price put on tea naturally drew con men and criminals towards it. These con men smuggled and sold tea that was not actually tea- they sold dried ordinary leaves colored to look like tea and mixed with harmful chemicals. This spike in crime eventually led to the taxes on tea being reduced from an outrageous 119 percent to a mere 12.5 percent and thus tea became a beverage for the bourgeois.