ORIGINS AND LEGENDS
There is a deep history behind tea that not even historians were able to figure out in the beginning. The border areas range from India to China. The tea plants were harvested for as long as local people can remember. Since people love all kinds of legends, the same is true of tea. When did tea begin? What begun the tea culture and what made it amazing? One legend says that tea culture started around 5,000 years ago where the Father of Chinese Medicine, Second Divine Emperor, and Celestial God Shen Nung decided to take a few tea leaves blown up in his cup of water and taste it. He agreed that this infusion is good for his health. Another legend is said to have happened around 2,500 years ago where Buddhist monk slept instead of meditating and because he got the god angry, his eyelids were turned into the first tea.
EARLY TEA DRINKING
Ancient texts first mentioned tea drinking back to 3rd century BC. It was first mentioned in the first Chinese dictionary. However, the first suggests that they have been used for cooking and for medicine only. In time, tea became associated with the idea of Buddhism. It was used as a tonic where the individual drinking it would want to stay awake even if they spend a lot of hours meditating. The tea was considered as an elixir of life and immortality. The legend has it that when a Buddhist monk planted the first true tea garden, he loved his garden so much that it became one of the famous Tribute Tea Gardens. Eventually, tea became a currency. It was used for trading. This requires the traders to turn the tea leaves into cakes for easy transportation across the Himalayas. Hence, the road eventually became the Tea Horse Road.
THE ART OF TEA
Since brick tea became very useful during trading, every distinguished family employed a Tea Master in order to have someone to advise them and prepare their tea. In the famous text, The Classic of Tea, he covers everything from how to classify and prepare tea. What needs to be added to the tea? This is answered in this text. By the time of the Song Dynasty, drinking tea became very sophisticated and it was associated with art, music, and poetry. It was during this era that tea became part of public life and tea houses flourished.
Tea is a magical brew but it did not spread to other places until the 7th and 8th centuries when it first spread through the help of diplomatic missions. Even then, it did not really take on until some tea seeds were brought back by priest Myōan Eisai from China and wrote a book about 'Drinking Tea for Health'. After these events, the traditional Japanese tea ceremony was born. The traditional Japanese tea ceremony has four basic aspects such as harmony (wa), respect (kei), purity (sei), and tranquillity (jaku). By the 17th century, traders had introduced tea drinking to Europe. It then became popular not with the masses but with the upper class. However, tea back then was fairly different for the Western Palate and so Chinese tea makers oxidized the tea leaves and made it more appealing for the different palates. By 1685, Tea became availale in England at Garraway’s Coffee House in London, where it was known as a‘temperance’ drink along with coffee and hot chocolate. A few years later even the royals drunk their afternoon tea and mixed it with sugar and milk.
Trading was the main source of commerce back in 1684 and when the British East India Company was granted trading rights in China demand for tea grew. As demand grew, Britain became too reliable on tea produced in China that the Opium Wars happened. Of course, Britain won and they were able to get better trading rights and access ports that they were not able to access before.
Britain did not want to depend solely on China in producing teas so they decided to cultivate their own source. By 1833, Robert Bruce discovered a different version of the tea plant in Assam, India. His cousin, Charles, brewed the tea plant and by 1839, the very first tea chests arrived in London. Tea Spy Robert Fortune was also sent to China to unlock the secret of Chinese tea and he managed to smuggle thousands of tea seeds of China. Tea production soon spread to other British territories such as Ceylon and East Africa
By 1865, ships became competitive in becoming the first ship to dock in London with a new crop of tea for each season. This was known as the Great Tea Race of 1866. When the 20th century came, tea became a fundamental part of British custom and London tea reserves were even rehoused outside of potential bombing zones. Talk about setting priorities straight!
Tea has indeed grown over the past centuries. With over 165 million cups of tea consumed each day in the United Kingdom alone, it has set traditions in the hearts and minds of tea drinkers that it has become a part of our everyday lives. While tea knowledge and enthusiasm is not as high as one would expect, there are over 1500 years of history that comes with it and any person who aims to be more knowledgeable of this would easily access information about it. The best thing about tea today is that it has grown from a simple drink to one that is made to fulfill a certain need. It is beyond a drink, it is a way of life.