Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world after water.
The history of tea is long and convoluted, starting in China and working its way around the world causing revolutions in taste, lifestyle and politics.The discovery of tea actually influenced world history.
So where did tea originate? Who discovered tea? The honest answer is no one knows for sure. The most popular legend, however, takes us back to the year 2737 B.C. Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was a gifted herbalist and scientist. He was smart enough to insist that all drinking water be boiled for the sake of hygiene. One day, the Emperor and his servants stopped to rest and boil some water when they were out for a walk. Some dried leaves from a nearby tea bush blew into the water and the water turned brown. The emperor tasted the water, for scientific purposes, and exclaimed, “This is delicious”. According to legend, this is how tea was born.
Tea consumption spread throughout China and by the time of the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD), tea was the national drink in China. In 780 AD, a famous Chinese scholar by the name of Lu Yu wrote the first definitive book on tea called the Cha Ching. He wrote about tea cultivation and preparation in ancient China.
Interestingly, even at that early time, additives were added to tea to create different flavours. The ancient Chinese added, ginger, orange peel or peppermint as flavourings. It was also a custom to boil tea with onions. Lu Yu recommended that people always add salt to their tea, which we would consider strange today. Lu Yu also said that tea should always be consumed in an atmosphere of tranquility, so you shouldn’t make tea when you’re fighting with someone.
With the advent of Lu Yu’s book, tea became extremely popular in China and in 800 AD; tea began to be commercially cultivated.
In 1191, a Zen Buddhist missionary – Priest Yeisei, bought tea seeds from China to Japan, and he thought that the preparation of tea would enhance religious meditation. So tea in Japan instantly got approval from the royal family and monasteries, and spread throughout Japanese society. In Japan, the preparation of tea was elevated to an art form. The “Japanese Tea Ceremony” actually originated in China, but it died out there and was continued in Japan. It actually takes years to master the Tea Ceremony which is very complicated. Later, tea houses in which Japanese Hostesses, “the geisha” practiced the tea ceremony became very popular.
Another missionary, a Portuguese Jesuit Priest was the first European to try tea and he brought it back to Lisbon in 1560. It was the Portuguese and Dutch traders who first imported tea to Europe. In 1602 the Dutch East India Trading Company was formed and by 1610, regular shipments were going to France, Holland, and the Baltic countries.
Tea first came to Russia in 1618 when the Chinese embassy presented tea to the Czar. The Czar refused it as being a useless beverage, nevertheless tea eventually grew popular in Russia. In the late 1600′s, caravan trading began between China & Russia. Russians would trade their furs for Chinese tea. The horse and camel caravan journey took about a year and it was here that tea would be infused at night with smoke from the camp fires – so smoky teas like Lapsang Souchong and Russian Caravan were born. They are very strong teas with a strong smoke fragrance and flavours.
Tea became very fashionable in Holland, but because it was terribly expensive – over $100 per pound in the early 1600′s – it was only available to the wealthy. By 1675, the prices came down a bit, but it was still a luxury item. In Holland, tavern owners had to have a license to sell tea and got into the habit of serving teas outdoors in their gardens on portable tea sets with a heating unit, so people could enjoy tea outside in the tavern’s garden.
to be continued….
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