Tea is the most popular drinks in the world, even more popular than coffee, and the history of tea is quite long and fascinating. No matter if it is consumed hot or cold, people love the taste of tea and they also love the health benefits they can get from various types of tea. Tea has a long and rich history, beginning with its discovery in China nearly six thousand years ago. The tea you drink today is descended from those early tea leaves found in ancient times. Here is a brief tea history that tells the story of this wonderful drink.

History of Tea : Tea is Discovered in China

history of tea chinaThe history of tea begins in 2737 BC, with one popular story telling the tale of the Emperor of China, Shen Nung. He reportedly drank the first cup of tea when leaves from a tea shrub fell into his cauldron of boiling water. Although it’s not certain whether or not this legend is true, tea did get its beginnings in ancient China. At first, people mostly drank the beverage because it contained medicinal qualities that proved useful for numerous ailments. However, during the Western Zhou Dynasty, tea was also making a frequent appearance in religious ceremonies as offerings to religious deities.

Although research shows that tea was consumed as a beverage during the Han Dynasty, which ruled from 202 BC to 220 AD, there was a limited supply of tea plants, so the drink was reserved mostly for members of royalty and other wealthy citizens. It wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty, which ruled from 618 to 907 that tea was more readily available to members of the common classes, when more plants that could be turned into tea were discovered.

History of Tea : Tea in Japan

The use of tea as a beverage rather than a medicine began to spread to Japan during the Tang Dynasty when Japanese priests who were studying in China brought tea leaves to their home country. Initially used as a religious offering or for medicinal purposes, tea followed a similar path in Japan as it did in China. Even today, tea is still closely associated with Zen Buddhism because of the Japanese Tea Ceremony performed by Buddhist priests as a way to share tea through a sacred ritual. Eventually, tea became widespread in Japan after the Emperor, who thoroughly enjoyed tea, ordered more tea plant seeds be imported from China and planted in Japan.

History of Tea : Tea Spreads to Europe

history of tea europeDuring the rule of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty between 1280 and 1368, tea began to fall to the wayside as a beverage for enjoyment. The Mongol royalty believed the drink was a symbol of decadence and refused to use or participate in any activity that suggested wealth or opulence. However, the history of tea picks up again when the Chinese Ming Dynasty came to power in 1368 and all things traditionally Chinese became desirable once again. Tea regained its popularity among all economic classes and eventually spread to Europe as well. It was during this time that tea merchants began to experiment with different types of teas to satisfy different tastes and uses.

Even though tea was first brewed in Europe in the 14th century, according to the history of tea, it did not become popular in England until the 1600s, when King Charles II married Catherine Braganza, a Portuguese princess. Traders in Portugal had been importing tea for many years and it was a fashionable drink during Catherine’s formative years. When King Charles II needed to marry a foreign princess to raise cash for his war-torn country, he was provided with several ships full of sale-able goods as a dowry that the king could sell to pay off his debts. One of the products on these ships was a chest full of tea.

As queen, Catherine attempted to conform to English fashions, but she still preferred the cuisine of Portugal, which included tea. Eventually, members of the royal court took to drinking tea as well, which started a fad among other aristocrats and members of the higher classes. With time, tea also became the beverage choice for middle and lower class citizens as well.

History of Tea: Tea in India

history of tea indiaMost native tea plants in India do not produce a palatable tea and even today, any tea that is cultivated in India is because of England’s 19 century interests. In the history of tea some people initially thought that tea was indigenous to Indian subcontinent because of what they thought were wild tea plants growing in Nepal. However, those plants were actually brought to India through the East India Company by way of Britain.

In 1815, a beverage that was thought to be tea was being consumed by people living in Assam. However, no one was willing or able to identify the plants as tea plants. In 1823, some samples of the Assam plants were sent to the East India Company in Calcutta to determine whether or not the plants were tea. The company would not provide confirmation, and in 1833, more samples were sent to the Agricultural and Horticultural society in Calcutta, with the additional notation that people in Assam were drinking these leaves as an infusion. This organization also refused to identify the brew as a tea.

A year later into the history of tea, though, when still more samples were sent to Calcutta, the actual identity of the plant was determined to be tea. Known as Assam tea, it is the only type of tea that is indigenous to India. This discovery made tea planting extremely popular in India, but many of the products leaving the country were a blend between the native Assam tea and the imported Chinese variety.

History of Tea : Tea in America

history of tea american Boston Tea PartyContinuing with the history of tea, In the 17th century, the Dutch first introduced tea to North American when it established the Dutch colony, New Amsterdam. When the British took over the colony and named it New York, many of the Dutch customs were retained, including tea drinking. The popularity of the beverage spread throughout the other original colonies, including Philadelphia and Boston, whose residents adopted the English style of drinking tea.

Due to the English monopoly of the East India Company, tea was heavily taxed in America, which caused significant unrest among the colonists. North American ports started to refuse shipments of taxed goods from England, including tea. Ships often had to return to England with their goods, further angering the king and the British Parliament. The Tea Act of 1773, which was implemented by Parliament to increase profits for the East India Company by allowing the Company to sell tea directly to the colonists, only served to increase the ire of the colonists.

The colonists eventually refused to accept any taxed tea and on December 16, 1773, members of the Sons of Liberty disguised themselves as Indians, boarded a British ship that was carrying taxed tea and threw it into the harbor. This event, known as the Boston Tea Party, marked the start of the American Revolution. The protest lasted for three hours and resulted in 342 chests of tea landing in the Boston Harbor.

Although not as popular in America as in Great Britain, tea still has a significant place in American history. Separating from England led to the development of inventions that have contributed to tea drinking as it is known today. In fact, the modern teabag is believed to have been invented by an American named Thomas Sullivan who packaged loose tea leaves in muslin bags for ease of brewing.

From Green Tea to Black Tea and Beyond

The first type of tea consumed in China was a mild green tea, and was the type that was first introduced in Japan and Europe. Its many medicinal properties were celebrated throughout most of Asia, as people used it as a remedy for everything from promoting healthy digestion to healing wounds. Green tea is made from the leaves of the Camillia Sinensis plant that is native to China.

When Assam tea was discovered in India, many people found it bitter and not as delicate as green tea. It was deeper in color and stronger in flavor, which led many people to supplement their beverage with sugar and milk, as many people do today. Although this Indian tea was not initially classified as black tea, it differed so significantly from the Chinese version of the tea that it was given its own category in the history of tea.

In addition to green and black tea, the history of tea has documented several other types of tea as well. These include white, yellow, oolong and red teas. Green and black teas are the most popular types of tea today, but oolong is gaining favor, with the other types still lagging behind. Almost all teas sold in the west today, though, are blends of various types of tea. This is designed to create superior flavor and may also be an excuse to charge more for the resulting products.

Throughout tea history, the beverage has surpassed coffee as the most popular drink in the world. Today, there are many different flavors of tea available to suit any taste, but they are all derived from the humble tea plant of ancient China. Many people believe that drinking tea is one of the healthiest things people can do to ward off illness and to cure current ailments. The history of tea is full of stories of when tea was used for medicinal purposes, so even if it’s only consumed for pleasure, the drinker is still getting the health benefits as well.