The History of Tea
The history of tea can be traced through a long line of interesting times, traveling continents and into the kitchens of today. Since its first discovery in China in 2737 B.C. by the Chinese Emperor it has become the herbal medicinal drink of choice among the Chinese. For hundreds of years it was also served as a means of religious offering. During the time of the Han Dynasty (202 B.C. – 220 A.D.), tea became exclusive for the use of the royalty due to its limited supply. When planting and harvesting of tea became popular during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), its popularity spread across all social classes.
Tea and Spirituality
During this same era, the practice of planting, cultivating and drinking tea were spread across Japan by Japanese priests who spent time studying in China. Same with how it started in China, the first ones to enjoy drinking tea in Japan were those belonging in the upper class, priests and practitioners of Zen Buddhism. Not long after, the Buddhists came up with their own Japanese Tea Ceremony, as a way to share tea in a spiritual and sacred manner. The then emperor of Japan promoted the use of tea to the citizens by importing more tea seedlings from China, making tea more popular in Japan.
Tea became popular in England
Tea made its debut in England in the 17th century after King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese Princess. The Queen made tea drinking as a sign of royalty. Not long after, the practice of drinking tea spread throughout Britain via trading with the East India Company. Tea parties soon became a popular event commemorating the gathering of the aristocratic society.
Heavy taxes were imposed on tea importation making it available mostly to rich people, smugglers however found ways to illegally smuggle it into Britain making it also available for those in the working class. Ordinary Londoners started enjoying tea when a number of tea and coffee houses owned by Thomas Garway started operation all over London in 1657. These coffee and tea houses soon grew to around 500 by the year 1700.
Tea makes it appearance in America
Tea was first brought to the United States and the rest of North America by the Dutch in the early 17th Century. The Dutch colony in the United States, then called as New Amsterdam was acquired by the British and was renamed to New York. The English introduced the tea drinking customs common in England to the people of New York, making tea a popular practice in the city.
To increase income from tea trading, the East India Company started exporting large volumes of tea to the United States of America and neighbouring countries in South America. The high tax rate imposed by the British Government and the East India Company on tea importation to America became the contributing cause of a revolt known as the Boston Tea Party.
In the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, where a group of patriots from Massachusetts opposing the monopoly and heavy taxation on tea importation, hijacked a ship near the Boston harbour and threw 342 chests of tea into the water, the British lawmakers passed the Commutation Act of 1784. The law stated the lowering of tariffs and other taxes imposed on trading of tea and also as a means to stop tea smuggling.
High Tea or Cream Tea are still a part of the British Culture today
During the early 1800’s, the concept of ‘afternoon tea party’ was introduced by Anna the Duchess of Bedford. The concept of the afternoon party is to provide time of gathering for tea lovers in the afternoon, as drinking tea satiates starvation between lunch and dinner.
Fast forward to today, tea has not only a long history but continued its popularity and has become a natural choice for leisure, herbal and social drinking occasions.