From the Earl Grey of England to the Matcha of Japan or even the Darjeeling Tea of India, you now have access to different teas, each having a personalized taste. Owing to its taste and mind-soothing essence, tea is now the second most-consumed drink in the world, preceded by water. History of tea dates back to 2732 B.C. when Emperor Shen Nung discovered tea leaves by mistake. This origin of tea was in ancient China, almost 5.000 years back. Lu Yu has mentions the story of tea in his work - ‘The Classic of Tea’. For Japan, the story of tea started when Saicho, Eichu, and Kukai introduce this beverage for the first time.
Moreover, everyone has their own story of tea and its significance in their lives. If we classify tea in a broad sense, then there are five major varieties:
All five varieties come from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis, native to China. There's another species, Camellia Sinensis Assamica, that originated in the Indian state of Assam. (Reference: Tea, Wikipedia, Retrieved on 1 January 2023) Along with these traditional teas, people drink several other drinks made from different kinds of plants. Since they taste similar to traditional tea, these are also known as herbal teas or tisanes. Rooibos tea, chamomile tea, peppermint tea, and lemongrass tea are some of the most popular herbal teas. (Reference: Herbal Teas, Wikipedia, Retrieved on 1 January 2023)
Five Types of Teas, Tea Botanics, Google Images, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Here, we’ll focus on traditional teas and learn more about the history and origin of the tea. What’s the history of tea? Who did the invention of tea? Where is chai origin? Where did tea originate? How did it become so popular? Let us start the discussion by talking about the origin of tea.
Tea Background - What are the Origins of Tea?
Here are some of the countries and their story of tea -
- China: It’s impossible to understand tea background and talk about the origin of tea without mentioning China. Although there are various stories about the invention of tea in China, every one of them has the mention of Emperor Shen Nung. One famous story is that, in 2737 BC, once a leaf blew into the boiling broth in Emperor Shen Nung's court. He was so pleased with the infusion that he named it 'Tcha.' Another story of tea, says that it was the Shang Dynasty who invented tea to use it for medicinal purposes. It was in 1500 BC–1046 BC. No matter what the legends say, it is more or less proven that the Han Dynasty of 206-220 AD popularized tea in Chinese culture. And by the time the Qing Dynasty came in rule, tea had become a staple drink of china.
- Japan: According to the history of tea, it was Saicho, Eichu, and Kukai (renowned scholars and Buddhist monks) were the first to introduce Japan to this beverage. Since then, it became a drink to cherish for in Japanese culture. If legends are to be believed, the use of Matcha tea by the Buddhist Zen Monks to control their stimulus, built its fame in Japan.
- Vietnam: Though not a famous story of tea, Vietnam has a wide variety of teas that the rest of the world had no idea until Other than the high consumption and production of oolong and black tea, the speciality of Vietnam lies in herbal teas like lotus tea, chamomile tea, etc. (Reference: The history of tea, Teabox, Retrieved on 1 January 2023)
How sustainable farming is turning the tables for Vietnamese tea growers, Global Environment Facility, Google Images, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Chai Origin - Who Introduced Tea in India?
The British Empire played a huge role in building the history of Indian tea. It was the British East India Company that brought tea into the limelight in India. According to the history of Indian tea, a renowned English botanist, Joseph Banks, suggested that tea plantations would flourish in India. On his recommendation, a consignment of Chinese tea seeds was brought to India for cultivation in 1780. Robert Kyd led the experiment of cultivating tea on Indian soil.
A few decades later, the bushes of Camellia Sinensis Assamica were discovered in the Upper Brahmaputra Valley by Robert Bruce. He was very intrigued by the plant growing in the wild. And for the first time in the history of tea, one Indian Tea plant was sent to England. Though the Chinese variety couldn’t bear the heat of Assam, the native variety flourished. This gave rise to the tea production in India under the British. As time passed, tea plantations flourished, even for commercial purposes in India. Kumaon, Darjeeling, Garhwal, and Kulu led the way! This started the story of tea production on an industrial scale in the history of Indian tea. Today, India has 13,000 tea gardens with a workforce of more than 2 million people, making India one of the top contributors of tea production on a global level. (Reference: History of Indian Tea, Indian Tea Association, Retrieved on 1 January 2023)
How Did Tea Become Famous Worldwide?
Though the story of tea started in China as a medicinal drink, it’s now a popular beverage all across the world. From being part of England's tea-party culture for wealthy socialites to being part of the American Revolution and the First Opium War, the story of tea has prevailed across centuries.
A few stories suggest that the Dutch sailors played a major role in putting tea on the world map. It was they who took tea to North America, Holland, and France in 1610(approx). Back then, tea was marketed as a luxurious product, so only the rich merchants had the privilege of enjoying it. They were the ones who changed the story of tea from being a medicinal drink to a recreational beverage. The British also played a major role in making tea popular. It is mentioned in the history of tea, that the British started cultivating tea the First Opium war. This happened because China refused to trade tea for opium with the British. And so to cherish this 'wonder drink,' Great Britain set up commercial cultivations in its colonies like India and Ceylon, turning it into a global product.
The contributions of scientists and botanists are unmatched when it comes to popularizing tea's history and giving it a global identity, rather than constricting it to China. (Reference: How tea changed the world, Mother Nature Network, Retrieved on 1 January 2023)
The Growth of Tea, Nature, Google Images, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Who Invented tea with milk?
Though there isn't concrete proof behind this, there are mentions of specific incidents that might have resulted in the invention of using milk with tea. According to the history of tea, Jean Nieuhoff, a Dutch traveller, was first to taste tea with milk way back in 1965, in a banquet arranged by Chinese Emperor Shunzhi in Canton.
Another story of tea says the British were the second to use milk in tea. They used to do this because teacups back then were so delicate that pouring hot tea into it made them crack. So, to prevent the delicate dishes from cracking, Britishers started pouring milk into the cup and then adding the hot, brewed tea. This way, the milk would cool off the tea's temperature and prevent the cups from cracking. The people of England follow this tradition even today while preparing the tea. (Reference: Why do the English drink milk with their tea?, Englisch-hilfen, Retrieved on 1 January 2023)
Who Discovered Tea in the World?
Though there are many stories about the history of tea, almost every single one of them narrow down to the fact that it was the Emperor Shen Nung of China, who discovered this beverage. It is said that a dried tea leaf somehow blew into a boiling broth, which was being prepared for the emperor. He was so impressed with the smell that he decided to taste some of it. (Reference: Ancient China - The Birthplace of tea, Coffee Teaware House, Retrieved on 1 January 2023)
Does All Tea Come from China?
Though China is considered as the most famous country as far as the story of tea goes, not all tea comes from there. Only Camellia Sinensis has its origin in China out of the two main species of tea. The other variety, Camellia Sinensis Assamica, is native to the region of Assam, India. Other than China and India, countries like Sri Lanka and Kenya also produce tea on a large scale. Together, they form the top 4 tea producing countries.
Judging by the rich history of tea, it's evident that this loved drink has come a long way. From being a medicinal drink to a popular household drink, the story of tea is as exciting as its taste. So, it can be rightly said, no matter which country is responsible for the origin of tea, it thas has cult-following all over the globe.
Image for Tea History, Damro Tea, Google Images, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Frequently Asked Questions related to History of Tea
- What is the Origin of Tea and How did It Become Famous Worldwide? China his believed to be the place of the origin of tea. According to some records about the history of tea, the Chinese used to make medicines out of tea leaves before knowing about its brewing method. The British East India Company played a significant role in making it famous worldwide. They were the first to bring tea to the western countries.
- Who Drinks the Most Tea? According to studies, Turkey has the highest consumption of tea, followed by countries like Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Russia. These are the top 4 counties with the highest tea consumption per person. (Reference: The Countries those Drink the Most Tea, The Atlantic, Retrieved on 1 January 2023)
- Why does The British Drink so Much Tea? Tea in ancient England was regarded as a luxurious product. The super-rich used to indulge in tea parties. Also, because of the British East India Company's control over the tea market in England, it quickly replaced coffee. (Reference: Tea in the United Kingdom, Wikipedia, Retrieved on 1 January 2023)
- Which Country has the Most Tea? If we look at the production level, China is the top tea-producing with an annual output of 2,473,443 tonnes. It is followed by India and Kenya, which produce 2,473,443 and 439,857 tonnes of tea in a single year, respectively. (Reference: The World's Top 10 Tea Producing Nations, World Atlas, Retrieved on 1 January 2023)
- Did tea come from India or China? China was the first country to begin the process of brewing and drinking tea. According to the history of tea, it became popular in India when the British colonized the country. They gradually started production in India.
- Is Chai Chinese or Indian? The word 'Chai' is the Hindi name for tea that has been in use for a long time in India. Chai also has its brewing method and a unique taste. So, it can be called an Indian drink.
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