Tea Throughout Time
Tea throughout time has acted as commerce but also as a large part of the lives, and cultures of countless people throughout the world. The use of tea and its popularity stems back to nearly 5000 years of Chinese history. Those 5000 years of tea drinking, tasting, and research have lead to the expansion of tea throughout the modern world with its practices ranging from casual to medicinal.
We definitely know that drinking too much coffee can put you over the edge. Whether it keeps you staying up a little later than expected or keeps your heart rate a little higher than normal it is nice to take a change from the everyday morning cup of coffee to a nice delicious cup of tea. We know the first mention of coffee drinking in writing comes from 15th Century Sufi tribes who used it as a modern beverage. These coffee beans were transported from Ethiopia to Yemen where they learned to grow manufacture and produce coffees. On the other hand, drinking tea dates back to a much earlier time with the Chinese in 2737 BCE nearly 5000 years ago.
Emperor Shen Nong
According to Chinese legend, the history of tea began in 2737 B.C.E. when the Emperor Shen Nong, a skilled ruler and scientist, accidentally discovered tea. While boiling water in the garden, three leaves from an overhanging wild tea tree drifted into his boiling water pot. The Emperor enjoyed drinking the tea infused water so much that he was compelled to research the plant further. Legend has it that the Emperor discovered teas medicinal properties during his research. Due to its long time usage we can see massive amounts of diversification in tea consumption based on geographic location. While people in China or Japan might drink tea with just water people in Europe would add milk and sugar to the beverage.
In Japanese records the first documentation of tea was in the 6th Century. This is due to the separation between China and Japan via the Sea of Japan. Despite the later start in the practice of enjoying tea, tea in Japan rose to be a significant piece of Japanese culture and everyday life. Initially, tea was a drink for the religious classes in Japan. When Japanese priests were sent to China to learn about the country’s culture they left with a comprehensive knowledge of tea. Tea in Japan became widely used during the 12th and 13th centuries and it is during this time period when traditional practices such as the Japanese Tea Ceremony originate. An Anthropologist, Lafcadio Hearn describes the Japanese Tea Ceremony as something of etiquette, detail, and years of practice. “The tea ceremony requires years of training and practice ... yet the whole of this art, as to its detail, signifies no more than the making and serving of a cup of tea. The supremely important matter is that the act be performed in the most perfect, most polite, most graceful, most charming manner possible.”― Lafcadio Hearn
Japanese Tea Ceremony by Adachi Ginko
THE WAY OF TEA
While tea may have traveled to Japan via ships throughout the rest of Asia, Europe, and Africa, tea trade was also accomplished via the Silk Road, a passage in which massive amounts of goods and people were transported throughout the reaches of the world. One of the main passages of trade between China, the rest of Asia, and Europe was the Silk Road. The Silk Road was a network of trade routes, which connected the East and the West (Europe and Asia) and linking societies, people and cultures via trade. While the name of the road may be derived from the lucrative trade of silk, countless containers of tea also crossed that road and helped to expand and form interest in the beverage. In addition to the Silk Road going through substantial commercial hubs and cities the Silk Road also had connections through waterways that allowed travel and commerce to spread to Europe, Africa, and Indonesia. Tea consumption can pinpoint to hubs of the Silk Road via written text and show through the mapping of the Silk Road how tea arrived at these economic centers along these trade routes.
SILK ROAD MAP OF TRADE ROUTES
India is one of the largest tea producers in the world and one of the top five largest consumers of tea. With an estimated seventy percent of its own tea yield being consumed in India. Tea production in India substantially increased in the 17th and 18th centuries with large-scale tea farms being created during the British Empires colonial rule over the region. During this period the British Empire via the East India Trading Company created a new commodity of interest to be consumed in Europe.
Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, Tamil Nadu
The first record of tea in English came from a letter written by Richard Wickham, the man who ran the East India Company office in Japan. It wasn’t until King Charles II married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, who then who popularized tea drinking amongst the noble women of the court. In 1664 the first instance of tea trade in record was a gift to the King of 2 pounds and 2 ounces of tea. By 1801 this increased to nearly 24 million pounds of tea.
Catherine of Braganza
The expansion of the tea trade along the Silk Road arose due to the necessity in the formation of rest stops along the trade route. The Silk Road on the map above traces from the far reaches of the East in China, through India and the Middle East toward Europe linking the trade capitals of the British Empire and the Chinese Empire. By the early 1700s, the British East India Company ("The Company") established itself as the dominant trading power and would go on to monopolize the tea trade with China. Trading stations sprung up in India, including hubs in Bombay, Bengal, and Madras. The Company became an acting imperial arm of England. At this point in the history of tea, tea itself became in a sense, its own means of payment. With interest peaking in Europe and the Americas and the British victory in the Opium Wars against China the usage of tea spread like wildfire throughout the modern world. The Silk Road’s history stems back into early trade periods in which tea was an economic centerpiece and in which trade revolved around tea.
This expansion of tea throughout the modern world helped the formation of not only trade routes but also economic stability through balanced trade of luxury resources such as tea. Tea played into major parts of Americas as well following colonial rule of the British. Its handling in political acts such as the Boston Tea Party show us that at the time period tea was such a luxury item that the stealing and destruction of tea as protest showed defiance against imperial rule. This protest done by the Sons of Liberty against the British East India Trading Company was due to the Tea Act, which allowed the British East India Company to sell Chinese Tea in American colonies without being taxed. The Sons of Liberty decided this was against their rights and they boarded the ships and threw 340 chests of tea owned by the East India Company Tea into Boston Harbor spoiling the chests of tea. This moment, which is considered to be one of the key moments in the American Revolution, shows us just how important a luxury item tea was, and how expensive an item it was, at this time in history.
Boston Tea Party
While the global scale of tea dates back nearly 5000 years with the tradition of drinking tea, tea continues to live with us to this day. It’s nice to sit back and drink a warm glass of chamomile tea before bed. The wide variety of teas and tisanes available, along with the different ways to prepare each tea, allow for a range of options to choose from when looking for an interesting cup. At Weaver’s Coffee & Tea we pride ourselves in producing not only the best quality coffees but also the best quality hand blended teas as well. Next time you place your monthly order for coffees add one of our incredibly delicious teas. While you sip the tea, think about the fact that this drink has literally been around for thousands of years, and has changed the lives and cultures of people across the world.