In a Tea Cup
History of Tea
Although Europeans, and particularly the British, have been drinking tea for more than 350 years, tea was a known beverage in Asia as far back as 2000 BC. Our brief history of tea shows how it became the world’s favourite drink, refreshing millions everywhere.
The first cup was an accident…
Chinese mythology says that in 2737 BC, the Chinese Emperor, scholar and herbalist, Shen Nung, discovered a refreshing new drink when a leaf from the tree under which he rested dropped into his can of boiling water.
Tea gets its name
In the Tang Dynasty (618 AD – 906 AD), tea became China’s national drink and the word ‘cha’ was used to describe tea. The modern term ‘tea’ derives from early Chinese dialect words – such as ‘Tchai’, ‘Cha’ and ‘Tay’ – used to describe both the beverage and the leaf.
Tea drinking catches on
Indian and Japanese folklore credits the popularisation of tea to Bodhidharma, the devout Buddhist priest who founded Zen Buddhism. Legend tells of how he dispelled tiredness by chewing a few leaves from a tea bush nearby. Arabs first mentioned tea outside China and Japan in 850 AD and were responsible for introducing it to Europe. However, the Portuguese and Dutch also claim credit for bringing tea and tea drinking to Europe.
With the advent of sea routes to China around 1515, Portuguese missionaries to the East brought tea back, while sailors encouraged Dutch merchants to start trading in tea. From the early 17th Century, the trade flourished to France, Holland and the Baltic, with England only entering the market in mid- to late 17th Century with the establishment of the East India Company.
The birth of Ceylon
TeaCeylon, under the British, began widespread coffee planting in 1825. A rampant coffee blight in 1860’s destroyed the coffee plantations and wiped out the booming industry. James Taylor saw tea as a ready substitute and, over the next 20 years, Ceylon planters steadily converted the coffee plantations into tea.