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A Brief History of Tea
There are many areas that can be explored when following the history of tea. We have chosen to follow tea from its origins in China, across to Europe and specifically ending up in England. There are two well known stories about the first cups of tea that were brewed. One takes place in China and the other follows an Indian Prince. Click on the text below to uncover the exciting history of tea in more detail.

The Origin of Tea
In 2737 BC Second Emperor of China and Herbalist, Shen Nung discovered tea while resting under a tree with his servant. The servant was boiling water when some leaves from the Camellia Sineses (a tree native to southwest China) fell into the cup. Being a herbalist, Shen Nung decided to try the boiled water mixed with the leaves. What he was drinking is what we now call tea.
Another story states that in the sixth century the Indian prince Bodhidharma travelled to China after converting to Buddhism to spread the message. One of Bodhidharma′s beliefs was that he needed to stay awake for continual meditation and prayer. To achieve this state he would chew leaves from a tea shrub which acted as a stimulant to keep him awake. In one version of the story, Bodhidharma accidently falls asleep so to stop this from happening again he cuts off his own eyelids and throws them on the ground. The first tree shrub then grew out of the discarded eyelashes.

206 BC - 1644 AD
Whether these stories are fact or fiction we can still trace tea back through many of the dynasties in China to trace its history and growth in popularity. Beginning in 206 BC during the Han Dynasty, following the popularity of tea throughout the Mongolian invasion of China during the Yuan Dynasty and ending in 1644 right through to the end of the Ming Dynasty.

Han Dynasty 206 BC - 220 AD
Tea containers have been found in tombs dating from this period and it is shortly after the Han Dynasty when tea was first cited in a Chinese dictionary as Erh Ya.

Tang Dynasty 618 - 907
During this time tea developed into a popular drink and became the national drink of China. This was because of both the flavour and medicinal purposes of tea. Tea was mainly drunk during this time in brick form. Part of the brick would be broken off and mixed with boiling water to create the drink.
Tribute tea was made compulsory during this time. This was when famous types of tea were given to the Emperor as a tribute. This is discussed further in the classification of tea section.
Tea became so popular and connected to the higher classes during this time that a Tang poet Lu Tong devoted the majority of the poems he wrote to his love of tea. The following is a translation of one of his poems;

The 7 Bowls of Tea
The first bowl of tea moistens my throat, the second breaks my loneliness, and the third bowl racks my brains, bringing to light the texts of 5,000 volumes. The fourth induces perspiration whereby all ills evaporate through my pores. The fifth makes my muscles and bones feel light, and the sixth links me to celestials. Be careful when drinking the seventh bowl, as it makes you feel as if a cool breeze were coming from your armpits

The Sage of Tea, Lu Yu wrote C’ha Jing (The Classic of Tea).

The text covers a range of topics from tea culture, history and art to farming, machinery and production. This publication majorly aided the cultural significance of tea in China. It is likely that Lu Yu was commissioned to write C’ha Jing by Tea Merchants as a way of increasing the popularity of tea. C’ha Jing has been translated into many languages including English, Japanese, Korean and French.
The Chinese would sew wrapping paper into square bags to hold and preserve the tea.
In 725, tea was given its own Chinese character of Ch’a.

Sung Dynasty 960 - 1279
The drinking of tea was becoming more popular not only in China but also in Japan. A Zen Buddhist monk named abbot Eisai reintroduced tea to Japan when he planted tea seeds around his temple in Kyoto. Back in China stylish tea houses were set up where tea was drunk from cups made from porcelain and pottery. The form of tea had changed from bricks to powder. The powdered tea was mixed with boiling water and whisked until frothy.

Yuan Dynasty 1271 - 1368
The Mongolian people conquer China. Tea becomes a common place drink that all classes enjoy. However the Mongolian Emperor views tea as an unnecessary decadence. This led the masses to indulge in tea drinking but aristocracy steered clear.

Ming Dynasty 1368 - 1644
After being ruled by a foreign dynasty, the return of a native Chinese dynasty saw the return of a charismatically Chinese way of life. This most definitely included tea. Tea was now brewed using cured loose leaves that were steeped in boiling water.
During this time in Japan, the Japanese tea ceremony was invented by a Zen Priest named Murata Shuko. The tea ceremony Cha-no-yu (literally meaning hot water tea) was carried out to celebrate everyday life. The status of tea was elevated to an art form and in some cases the art of tea drinking was similar to religious ceremonies.

From Asia to Europe
The first report of tea being brought to Europe was from either China or Japan (sources differ here) to Holland via Java between 1606 and 1610. The Dutch East India Company sold tea on the basis of its medicinal purposes but it was so expensive that only the higher classes could afford to drink it. By 1635 tea became more popular in the Dutch Court, however a German Physician began to spread warnings of the health risks involved with tea. From here tea was slowly introduced to England.
By 1658 tea was still slow to catch on in England. This was due to the British East India Company who controlled all imports to Britain. However tea was definitely available by this stage as a coffee house set up in 1652 advertised, ‘China drink called by the Chinese, Tcha, by other nations Tay alias Tee’ for sale. The wording of the advertisement does imply that tea was not a well known substance. Thomas Garraway sold tea in his Coffee House for £6 and £10 in 1670 and advertised the tea as, ‘making the body active and lusty’.
It was not until 1664 when Charles II married Catherine of Braganza (a Portuguese princess) that tea was seen as a desirable drink in England. The story goes that Catherine disembarked her ship in Portsmouth and immediately asked for a cup of tea. Seeing as tea was not a commonplace drink she was instead offered a glass of Ale which made her sick. Catherine was a ‘tea addict’ and it was partly down to her love of tea that it established itself among the wealthy in England. Wanting to capitalise on its popularity, the East India Company made its first import of 100lbs of tea shipped from Java.
By the late 17th Century tea was becoming a more and more popular drink. However there was a high tax on tea that meant that not everyone could afford it and this led to illegal smuggling of tea into Britain.  

Tea Smuggling
The tax on tea was dropped from 25p in every pound in 1689 to 5p in every pound in 1692.
This high tax was still too much for the lower classes and they could not afford to buy tea although it was something they strongly desired. This led to tea being smuggled into England. Sometimes due to lack of quality control the tea would be made using leaves from other plants or tea leaves that had been used, dried and were to be reused. In order to create the correct colour for the tea sometimes sheep dung or poisonous copper carbonate would be added to the tea.
It soon became evident that the illegal importing of tea was a problem when over half of the tea imported into England was done illegally. Therefore in 1784 the taxation was reduced again making tea far more affordable and the illegal smuggling stopped almost instantly.
Throughout the 19th Century tea became the nations drink in England and was imported from India as well as China.
In 1834, the East India Trading Company lost their monopoly on trade with China by act of British Prime Minister Charles Grey (Earl Grey). Tea was then grown in Assam in India and by 1839 there was the first auction of Assam tea in Britain.
In 1858 the British Government took over India and the East India Trading Company. They were still enthusiastic about tea and continued to import tea from India, not just from Assam but other areas too. By 1888 tea imports from India to Britain were greater than from China.

1900 - Today
In 1901 the consumption of tea in England had tripled from 2lbs per head in 1851 to 6lbs per head!
By this stage there were cheaper imports from areas such as Sri Lanka (then Ceylon, a British Colony). Popularity had majorly grown in Britain.
Teabags were accidently invented by Thomas Sullivan in 1908 when he sent tea in silk bags to his clients and they steeped the tea without taking it out of the bag.
During the first and second world wars tea was controlled by the British Government to ensure that the nation would not run out of its favourite drink and that it would remain affordable.
In 1970 tea sold in teabags became immensely popular and still remain a popular of drinking tea today. Today in England alone, 2.1Kg of tea per head per year is consumed.