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History of Tea

irst introduced to India, by the silk caravans travelling from the Orient to Europe, tea has become an intrinsic part of daily life. As it turned out, Camellia sinensis also grew wild in India, and natives had long cultivated and consumed it as a nourishing part of their daily diet, both in pickled form as a vegetable, and as a sort of soup. Eventually they combined the leaves with buffalo or yak's milk, and added ginger and spices such as cardamom.

In the seventeenth century, the native's use of the plant was reported by a European traveler who wrote of his refreshments while in India: "we took only tea which is commonly used all over the Indies, not only among those of the country, but also among the Dutch and the English who take it as a drug".

Discovery of the Indian tea bush was regarded by the British as exciting news. Envious of China's monopoly on tea, and resentful of the money they had to spend on their habit, the British had long wished to be able to grow their own tea. The British saw the Indian jat as inferior to the Chinese bush, but thought that the evidence of local plants indicated good soil for transplanting Chinese seedlings. They immediately procured some seedlings of the Chinese variety and undertook to grow them in the Assam valley and the mountainous Darjeeling region. Fourteen years later, and after many unsuccessful attempts were made, the British resigned themselves to growing the native jat.

Popularly known as 'Chai'

Today, the upper classes drink tea with milk and sugar, in the British colonial manner, while the most common type of tea consumed is a blend of black tea, buffalo milk, sugar, and spices such as Cardamom, Cinnamon, Ginger and Cloves. The addition of milk and spices was initially intended to enhance the flavor of poor tea. During colonial times, almost all of the good grade tea was intended for export, or at least reserved for British subjects, and the Indians got only what was left-over. India's busy city streets are lined with tea stalls, where people sit on low benches, drinking chai from small glass cups, and chatting with their neighbors. At train stations, vendors or chai wallahas, hawk small clay cups of spiced, milky to weary travelers. When empty, the clay cups are dashed on the ground, both returning the offering to the earth, and ensuring that no one from different castes will drink from the same cup.

The Tea History Timeline

2727 BC CHINA - The Emperor Shen Nung discovers tea one day while drinking hot water in his garden.
1200 BC Tea is served to King Wen (founder of the Zhou dynasty) as evidenced by early documentation of court life.
350 AD CHINA - Tea plants from the Yunnan Province are planted along the Yangtze river in the Scechwan Province. The cultivation of tea begins.
CHINA - The Erh Ya a dictionary of ancient Chinese origin annotated by scholar Kuo P'o, defines tea as beverage made of boiling leaves from a plant "as small as a gardenia, sending forth its leaves even in winter. What is plucked early is called t'u and what is plucked later is called ming (bitter tea)."
380-400 A dictionary is published which documents the addition of onions, cinnamon, and orange to tea.
400's Tea joins noodles, vinegar, and cabbage as an item of trade
600's Chinese character c'ha, meaning tea, comes into use
727 The Japanese Emperor Shomu receives a gift of China tea from a visiting T'ang court emissary.
729 JAPAN - The Emperor Shomu serves Chinese tea to visiting monks. The monks are inspired by the tea and decide to grow it in Japan. The monk Gyoki dedicates his entire life to the cultivation of tea in Japan, during which time he built 49 temples, each with a tea garden.
780 CHINA - The first tax on tea in China, due to its popularity. The first book on tea, the Ch'a Ching (The Classic of Tea), written by the poet Lu Yu is published.
Tea drinking becomes very popular at court, inspiring the custom of "Tribute tea", whereby tea growers "donate" their very best tea to the Emperor and the Imperial court.
Due to its popularity, tea is taxed for the first tax in China.
794 Japanese monks plant tea bushes in Kyoto's Imperial gardens.
900 Japan is again influenced by Chinese culture, when Japanese scholars return from a visit to China bearing tea.
1107 The Emperor Hui Tsung (1082-1135) writes about the many aspects of tea in his treatise called Ta Kuan Ch'a Lun.
1191 JAPAN - The Buddhist abbot Yeisei re-introduces tea to Japan after travels in China. He brings tea seeds and knowledge of Buddhist rituals involving a bowl of shared tea. He also writes the first Japanese book about tea.
1261 JAPAN - Buddhist monks travel across Japan, spreading the art of tea and the Zen doctrine
1400's Tea drinking becomes prevalent among the masses in Japan
1477 The Japanese Shogun Ashikaga-Yoshimasa builds the first tearoom at his palace in Kyoto. He employs the Buddhist priest Shuko to develop a ceremony around the service of tea. The practice and etiquette of "chanoyu" ("hot water tea") is born.
1521-1591 JAPAN - Sen Rikyu, known as the "father of tea" in Japan, codifies the tea ceremony.
1600 EUROPE - Elizabeth I founded the John Foundation, with the intention of promoting trade with Asia. Chinese ceramics, silks, and exotic spices are much in demand in Europe.
1610 The Dutch procure tea and Chinese clay teapots from Portuguese traders in Macao, and establish a trading relationship with the Japanese. Tea comes to Europe.
1618 RUSSIA - Tea is introduced to Russia, when the Chinese embassy visits Moscow, bringing a chest of tea as a gift for the Czar Alexis.
1635 EUROPE - The "tea heretics" (doctors and university authorities) of Holland argue over the positive and negative effects of tea, while the Dutch continue to enjoy their newfound beverage.
1650/1660 NORTH AMERICA - A Dutch trader introduces tea to the Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (a small settlement in North America). Later, when the English acquired this colony, they found that the inhabitants of New Amsterdam (or New York as they chose to re-name it) consumed more tea than all of England.
1652 EUROPE - Tea is introduced to England by the Dutch East India Company.
1658 For the first time tea is made publicly available at Thomas Garaway's Coffee House in London.
1660 England's first tax on tea, levied at 8 pence for every gallon of tea sold at the coffeehouses.
1662 King Charles II married the Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza, who, not only introduced tea at court, but also brought to England (as part of her dowry), the territories of Bombay and Tangiers. This added strategic impetus to the already-strong monopoly of the John Foundation.
1664 Tea drinking becomes very fashionable among the aristocracy of England, although the debate continues as to its medicinal value or harm.
1670 The English begin to make and use silver teapots.
1675 EUROPE - In Holland, tea is widely available for purchase in common food shops.
1680 EUROPE - Tea drinking becomes a popular pastime in Europe, as a result of a craze for anything Oriental. The Marquise Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, is recorded to have added milk to her tea. An addition of milk to hot tea was made to prevent the delicate porcelain cup (Oriental influence) from cracking.
Tea is introduced to the Scottish aristocracy by the Duchess of York (future wife of King James II)
1685 England begins to trade directly with China. Tea and the Chinese word t'e (Amoy dialect) is brought to England directly from the Amoy region.
1689 RUSSIA - The Trade Treaty of Newchinsk establishes a common border between China and Russia, allowing trade caravans to cross freely. The trade caravans consisting of over 200 camels take over 16 months to cross the 11,000 miles between Moscow and Beijing. As a result, the cost of tea in Russia is high, and is drunk only by those who can afford it.
Realizing the potential popularity of tea and the money it could generate, the British Crown levies a 5-shilling per pound tax on dried tea. This will eventually lead to widespread smuggling.
1698 Due to popular demand, English potters of Staffordshire begin a local industry, making earthenware teapots, cups and saucers.
1699 EUROPE - England imports an average of 40,000 pounds of tea.
1707 Thomas Twinning opens his famous Toms Coffee House in London
1708 EUROPE - England imports an annual average 240,000 pounds of tea. People of all levels of society now drink tea in England.
1716 Tea is brought to Canada by the Hudson Bay Company.
1717 Thomas Twinning converts his coffeehouse to the first teashop "The Golden Lyon", which becomes the first place for women to meet and socialize in public.
1730's EUROPE - The popularity of tea wanes in France, in favor of coffee, wine and chocolate.
Now viewed as a valuable commodity, the first Chinese teas are sold at auctions in Europe.
1750 Black tea exceeds green tea in popularity in Europe.
1765 Josiah Wedgewood's ceramic ware creates a splash and sets a new standard for English teaware.
1767 England imposes high taxes on tea and other items sent to the American colonists. The colonists, resenting the monopoly that England has over them, begins to smuggle tea in from Holland.
1773 EUROPE - The John Company and the East India Company merge, forming the New East India Company. This new company had a complete monopoly on all trade and commerce in India and China. Trade with China is expensive however, and England's solution to its financial problem is opium. They begin to trade opium, (which they could grow cheaply in India) with the Chinese for tea. The Chinese would become addicted to the supply of opium, ensuring a constant supply of cheap tea to the English.
The famous Boston Tea Party occurs when American patriots dressed as Mohawk Indians push 342 chests of tea overboard. This act would eventually lead to the American Declaration of Independence of 1776.
1780 Tea smuggling is rampant in England as people resort to illegal measures to avoid paying the high tax on tea.
1784 The grandson of Thomas Twinning persuades the Prime Minister William Pitt to drop the high taxes on tea, not only eliminating smuggling, but making tea an affordable luxury to Brits of all walks of life.
  The Comte de la Rochefoucauld writes:
"Throughout the whole of England the drinking of tea is general. You have it twice a day and though the expense is considerable, the humblest peasant has his tea just like the rich man."
1789 NORTH AMERICA - The American Revolution is over, and America begins to trade directly with China. They would eventually break England's tea monopoly with their faster sailing ships, and honest way of doing business (they paid gold, not Opium for tea).
1800 Tea gardens become popular haunts for fashionable Londoners.
1818 The Temperance Movement is founded as a result of rampant alcoholism brought on by the Industrial Revolution. Members seek salvation for the drunken men with "tea and god on their side". This movement eventually inspired the word "teetotaling".
1823 The first Indian tea bushes are "discovered" growing wild in the Assam region of India by British Army Major Robert Bruce.
1826 The first packaged tea is made available for purchase in England by the Horniman Tea Company.
1827 The first Chinese tea seeds are planted in Java by an entrepreneurial Dutchman (J.I.L.L. Jacobsen), who smuggled both the seeds and teamen out of China. The Chinese plant did not thrive however, and was later supplanted by the hardier Assam variety.
1834 The "Tea Committee", appointed by the Governor-General Lord William Cavendish Bentinck, reports that tea can be successfully grown in India.
Experiments with tea planting are conducted in the Darjeeling region of India.
1838 The British seriously set about planting and cultivating tea in the Assam region of India.
1839 The first chests of Assam tea arrive at the London Tea auctions. The British are ecstatic as this means that they are now able to successfully grow their own tea.
1840 EUROPE - Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford invents "Afternoon Tea" to abolish the "sinking feeling" she experienced during the long gap between breakfast and dinner.
1842 CHINA - The Opium Wars end with England winning "the right" to trade opium for tea.
1843 Tea and ale vie for the place at the breakfast table in England. Brewers lobby the government to increase taxes on tea and spread rumors of its addictive quality, out of fear that tea will become more popular than ale
1850's EUROPE - The world's nations competed with one another in global clipper races to lay claim to the fastest ships. The fast sailing ships would race all the way from China to England, and up the Thames river to the Tea Exchange in London, where they would present the year's first crop of tea to be auctioned. Steamships would replace these tall ships by 1871.
1851 Full of "tea pride" the British exhibit their own Assam-grown tea at the Great Exhibition.
1854 The British introduce tea to Morocco.
1866 The Great Tea Race begins in Foochow on May 28th, and ends in Gravesend on September 7th. The Taeping wins over the Ariel by 20 minutes.
1867 Scotsman James Taylor, manager of a coffee plantation in Ceylon, experiments with growing tea, planting both the China and India seed. The Assam seed flourishes and becomes the first commercial tea from Ceylon.
1869 Ceylon's coffee industry is devastated by a coffee blight.
1870 Clipper ships are outdated by the development of faster steamers.
1878 The Assam tea seed is planted in Java. It thrives over the earlier planted China variety.
  Tea is planted in Malawi, and becomes the first to be cultivated in Africa
1880 Scottish grocer Thomas Lipton buys numerous tea plantations in Ceylon, and goes on to revolutionize tea production in Ceylon.
1894 The first Lyons Tea Shop opens in London. Lyons became famous for the saying "tea for two", meaning a pot of tea for a two-pence.
1898 Tea is introduced to Iran.
1900 RUSSIA - The Trans-Siberian Railroad is completed, ending camel caravan trade between Russia and China. In Russia, tea has become the national beverage (besides Vodka).
  Tea is planted in the Botanical gardens at Entebbe, Uganda.
  In England, teashops become the popular place for the working class to take their afternoon tea. By this time Lyon's has over 250 teashops, and taking tea, as meal away from home becomes a pert of daily life.
  The proprietor of the Aerated Bread Company begins to serve tea in the back of her shop to her favorite customers. Her back room becomes such a popular place to take afternoon tea, that the company decides to open an actual teashop, the first of a chain of shops that would come to be known as the ABC teashop.
1903 Tea is planted in Kenya at Limuru.
1904 NORTH AMERICA - The first "iced tea" was served at the St. Louis World's Fair. A certain tea merchant had planned to give away samples of his tea to the fair-goers, and when unable to think of anything else to do when a heat wave threatened his plans, he dumped ice into his hot tea.
1906 The Book of Tea is written by Okakura Kakuzo, thus introducing the west to the Japanese Tea Ceremony and its history.
1908 NORTH AMERICA - A New York tea merchant named Thomas Sullivan packages his samples of tea in silk sachets, as a way to cut down on his costs. His customers, mistaking his intentions, like the convenience of simply dunking the sachet into hot water, and begin to order their tea in this fashion. The teabag is born.
1914 British workers are given tea breaks throughout the day as this is thought to improve their productivity.
British soldiers are given tea as part of their rations.
1950 The Japanese Grand Tea Master (Urasenke School), Sositsu Sen devotes his life to spreading the Way of Tea around the world.
1953 The paper teabag is developed by the Tetley tea Company, thus transforming tea-drinking habits around the world.
 

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