Have you ever wondered how tea became one of the most popular drinks worldwide? Starting from China, tea reached European shores, and from there it spread worldwide. Tea became one of the most historically and culturally significant drinks, mostly because of the effects of colonial Europe. Although nowadays it is common to see tea being consumed everywhere, the history of tea is an interesting and adventurous tale.
Read more to follow how your favorite cup of tea travelled all over the world to get to your hands.
The Origins of Tea
The exact date of origin for tea is unknown. No one really knows when exactly the first cup of tea was brewed, although there are several stories about its discovery. The most popular tale is that one day, Emperor Shen Nung discovered tea when leaves fell into his boiling cauldron of water. Despite the varying stories, there is one thing for sure about tea: it originated in China.
Although originally consumed for medical purposes, tea quickly became a social drink for the Chinese. China also established tea drinking ceremonies. Undoubtedly, tea is a huge part of the Chinese culture, evidenced by the ancient tea cups and tea pots found by archaeologists.
China was not the only Asian country that adapted tea into their culture. Tea crossed over to Japan and Tibet with monks. Much like how the Chinese made tea a part of their social lives, Japanese and Tibetans adopted tea the same way. Both Tibet and Japan, similarly, have tea ceremonies in their culture. Japanese tea ceremonies, in particular, are studied by international tea enthusiasts today.
Travelling to the West
Although considered the quintessential British drink, Britain wasn’t actually the first European country to accept tea. That title belongs to the Dutch. Before arriving in England, tea made its first stop in the European shores of Holland. Tea quickly became a favorite among the Dutch, which set up trading between the Dutch and the Chinese.
So how did tea get so popular in England?
When Portugeuse royal Catherine of Braganza married Charles II in 1662, tea became the new favorite drink for British upper classes. Of course, afternoon tea in Britain was considered incomplete without sugar--another rare delicacy back in those days. Tea quickly became a favorite and belonged in social gatherings and private saloons of the elite. If you remember playing princess tea parties as a child, imagine that but with British nobilities.
With tea and sugar combined, the drink quickly became a status symbol in England.
Exploring British Tea Parties
It’s fun to joke with the British about the perpetual love for tea, but modern tastes aside, tea actually has a significant part in British history.
With Catherine of Braganza’s love for tea, it quickly became popular in British circles. Witnessing the drink’s popularity, the East India Company imported tea from China in 1664. Despite being popular, tea was actually heavily taxed. Because of this, the drink was not really accessible to the masses. As a result, British tea drinkers smuggled tea to avoid paying the heavy taxes.
Long story short, the heavy taxes imposed on tea and sugar affected Britain negatively and ultimately resulted in the famous Boston Tea Party. So, if you want to be really technical here, you might say that America was built on tea as much as Britain is.
Spreading Tea Worldwide
One of the main reasons why tea was priced so high was because Britain and other European countries could not control the price of tea. Since tea came from China, the Chinese had a monopoly on tea leaves and could therefore dictate the price. In response to that, the British sent a spy to investigate how China produced tea.
At this point, tea drinkers were consuming tea at a fast rate. The demand for tea outweighed the supply that the British could give. Britain and other European powers. Enter the colonies.
European powers spread tea throughout their colonies to be able respond to the rising demand for tea. This resulted in tea being consumed far and wide, with the natives of the colonized countries creating their own tea culture. The best example for this would be India. Britain introduced tea to India to break China’s monopoly on the drink. “British tea” became popular in India, however the natives also brewed local tea leaves for medicinal purposes and their own enjoyment.
Tea Culture Today
Today, tea is the second most consumed beverage worldwide. With the introduction of tea in different countries, you get to experience different cultures all over the world. Asian countries like Vietnam, Myanmar, and India have a different culture in approaching tea than European countries. If you travel around the world, you are most likely going to find some new discovery about the local tea.
Tea is a reflection of history and culture. Wherever you may be, the tea that you’re drinking is telling you a story. The best part? Tea is now more accessible, so everyone can experience these stories. Iced tea, hot tea, milk tea, plain black tea, tea bags, loose leaf tea: the ways in which you can consume tea are endless!