Though thought of as being exclusively a British beverage, the story of tea originated in China in 2750 BC when the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) was found to have medicinal value.
According to legends, Shen Nung (a Chinese emperor and a herbalist) was resting under a wild tea while his servant boiled for him some drinking water, when a few leaves from the tree fell into the boiling pot.
The renowned herbalist decided to take the extract out of curiosity and found it delicious and safe. After thorough experiments, he discovered the medicinal potential of the tea plant and urged his fellow Chinese people to grow it for the benefit of the whole Chinese nation. That way, emperor Shen Nung became the legendary father of tea.
While there is no evidence to prove the above words, archaeologists have found containers of tea dating back to the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). However, it was not until 618 AD, during the Tang dynasty, that tea was fully established as a national beverage in China.
During that time, people could boil the tea leaves to create a bitter brew, which they took as medicine and an uplifting drink. The international popularity of tea gained traction in the 8th century when Lu Yu, a writer, wrote a book-the, Ch'a Ching, or Tea Classic, which was exclusively about tea.
From China, tea spread to other areas of the world. Keep reading to learn how.
It was not long after the Chinese writer Lu Yu released his first book that the Japanese Buddhist monks studying in China introduced tea in their country. Today, tea drinking has become a ritual in Japanese culture.
The Europeans had not heard about this beverage until the late 16th century, when they started receiving briefs about tea from Portuguese traders and missionaries who thrived in the Middle east.
After the news, the Dutch encroached the Portuguese trading routes and set up a trading post on Java island, through which they could ship tea from China to Holland in 1606 and beyond. Consequently, tea became a popular drink among the Dutch and later spread to other parts of the western world. However, the rich could only consume it due to its by-then high price.
The British had not heard about tea despite being traded by the Dutch holland. And, the beverage was first introduced to the country as an advert via the London Newspaper Mercurius Politicus in September 1658. It stated that a Chinese drink-Chinese Tcha or Tay alias Tee' was to be auctioned at Sweeting's Rents coffee house. However, the British didn't turn to tea until 1662, when Charles II married Catherine of Braganza – a Portuguese princess and a tea addict.
According to anecdotes, her love for tea was the reason behind its popularity among wealthy people in Britain. And following the surge in demand, the Dutch East African company started to ship tea into Britain in 1664.
It's believed that the first tea plant originated in China around 2750 BC.