History of Tea
The history of tea tells a story that spans many centuries. According to legend, it was first discovered almost 5000 years ago by the Emperor of China. He was apparently sitting in his garden drinking hot water, as was his custom, when some leaves from a nearby tea plant fell into his cup. He drank it and found the taste so pleasing that he began to drink tea regularly.
It was found that tea did not only taste good, but it was good for the health as well. After this, tea was reserved for the imperial class for centuries. Only the rulers of China were permitted tea. It was also used in some religious rituals. Gradually, however, more people were given access to it and eventually tea shops sprung up across the country.
In about the seventh century, tea was exported to Japan by Japanese Buddhist priests who had been studying in China. By then, it had become extremely popular all across China. In Japan, because it was so rare, it was reserved for the wealthy and the priests. During this time the Japanese tea ceremony evolved as a means of using tea as part of a sacred ritual. Finally, seeds from the tea plant were brought from China so the Japanese could grow their own, thus making it available to a much broader range of people.
Tea gradually made its way to Russia, through Siberia, then eastern Europe. Everywhere it went, the people loved it.
The history of tea in England is interesting. In the 17th century, King Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese noblewoman. In Portugal, tea was already popular in royal society, so Catherine brought tea with her to England where the aristocracy could not get enough of it. Tea became all the rage. The East India Company began to import quantities of it and the afternoon tea party became a popular custom among the wealthy classes.
The tax on tea was prohibitive, making it impossible for anyone but the rich to have it. There was, however, a huge market for the beverage, so a large and lucrative tea smuggling industry developed. As a result, more and more people were able to buy the drink.
It was during this period that the East India Company decided to export tea to America. Their reasoning was that they would have no competition there from smugglers. They were backed by the King because the Americans would be forced to pay the high taxes. The King saw this as a way to increase revenue and this worked for awhile. However, the enormous taxes on tea provided the revolutionaries with their justification to initiate the American war of Independence. The war began with the Boston Tea Party.
For those who want to experience the history of tea for themselves, there is a new train route being built that follows the ancient tea trading route from China to Siberia. The Siberian Times reports that tea aficionados will enjoy retracing the steps of the ancient traders.