A Potted History of Tea

From its beginnings in China 5,000 years ago, to a Portuguese princess' marriage to a king, from smugglers to the Boston Tea Party, tea has a long, rich, turbulent and romantic history and is second only to water as the world's beverage of choice.
Ancient Tea Drinkers
Legend has it that tea started on its journey with the emperor Shen Nung, a shrewd and talented ruler, who was in the habit of having all his water boiled for him before drinking. One day the emperor, after having some water set to boil, fell asleep and while he slept a few leaves from a nearby tree fell into the open pot. When he awoke he noticed the colour of the water had changed. Now, Shen Nung was known for his work with medicinal herbs, minerals, plants etc, so, not out of character, he tasted the water and found it to be very uplifting and tasty.

Tea the legend was born.

Tea started its long history in China some 5,000 years ago.

The emperor Shen Nung, a shrewd and talented ruler, had all his drinking water boiled.

Legend has it that one day some leaves fell into the water from a nearby bush. Now the emperor was a scientist at heart so he tried drinking the brown liquid that was produced and found it tasty.

Tea the legend was born.

Lu Yu and The Classic of Tea

Tea permeated every aspect of Chinese society and in 800 AD a Chinese scholar named Lu Yu wrote a definitive book on tea entitled “The Classic of Tea”. This book outlined everything tea, how to cultivate, pick, brew etc. Anything you would ever want to know. His treatise propelled him into near sainthood in his own lifetime.

Later tea spread to Japan, when a Buddhist priest by the name Eisai returned from a trip to China with tea seeds and set about growing and drinking green tea. Just as it had permeated and it had in China, tea drinking and usage spread in Japan and Eisai became known as the Father of Tea.

Tea's Spread Europe, Russia and Britain

It's not clear when tea spread to other parts of the world, but we do know that in the 1600s Holland sent its first shipment of tea to Amsterdam. From there it spread to Portugal, Germany and France and into Russia. Its foray into Britain began when Portuguese princess Catherine de Braganza married King Charles II in 1662. When she arrived for her wedding she brought with her a casket of tea as part of her dowry and her tea drinking habits caught on quickly with the royals and the British public.

Wherever tea was introduced it was usually consumed first by the nobility, then in great quantity by the populous and was often sold first through apothecaries as a health drink or cooking herb, then as an uplifting and enjoyable beverage.

It's popularity in Russia lead to the opening of the Great Tea Road that ran from Kashgar, behind the Great Wall of China, through the Gobi Desert to Mongolia. Tea was so popular in Russia that some 6,000 camel loads of tea a year were transported through this route.

Today, tea is consumed on every continent and in almost every country. There are hundreds of different teas that fall into 6 main categories: Yellow, White, Green, Black, Olong, Pu-ehr.