Tea- History, Geography & Politics in a cup

How tea came to be is an intriguing, myth-filled tale, spanning continents, and filled with political turns, twists, and economical consequences that make it a story that lies somewhere between a Bond movie and a Dalrymple novel.

The Pre-Colonial Era
Chinese Green Tea-
In the 2nd  century BC, while the Roman army was busy taking Carthage, and fighting the steel-muscled Spartans in Greece, tea was discovered in China. The earliest evidence of tea can be found in the Mausoleum of Emperor Jing of the Han dynasty, where ancient records show that green tea was used for its medicinal properties.

Tea drinking became a customary pass-time in Chinaonly around the 8th century. Under the Tang Dynasty, green tea leaves were steamed, dried and then brewed. As more and more people warmed to sipping green tea, the steaming process was honed and the flavour bettered.

Soon tea became so popular that the main revenue of the Canton region came from duties on salt and tea.

Peony and Needles- In 1105 AD, during the Song Dynasty era, white tea became the choice drink of Emperor Huizong. So inspired was he by tea that he wrote a book called the Treatise on Tea. It’s one of the best-written records of the Song dynasty's tea ceremonies, which primarily used a powdered form of white tea.

It was only in the late 1800’s that tea farmers from the Fujian mountains began to sell silver needle white pekoe tea and white peony tea in loose leaf form.

Japanese Green Tea- Zen and tea came from Buddhism in Japan.

Legend has it that a Bodidharma monk was so tired after 7 years of meditation, that he cut off his eyelids to stay awake, and threw them on the ground. A tea tree emerged, and its leaves re-energized the monk. In reality, it was in 1271 that a Buddhist monk brought and planted a Chinese tea shrub in Japan. The rest is history and a wee bit of geography. The misty cold Uji Mountains offered a perfect site for Matcha and Sencha tea.

Matcha tea is the powdered green tea associated with the celebrated Japanese tea ceremonies popular among emperors and kings. Sencha whole leaf tea, on the other hand, was the tea of the masses. Today, both Matcha and Sencha tea have found a global fan base, thanks totheir health benefits and rich history.

Oolong Tea- Its discovery was a happy accident.

In 15th century China, a tea farmer was distracted by a deer and forgot his plucked tea leaves in the sun. When he returned, the leaves were partially oxidized and gave out a beautiful aroma. He decided to brew the tea and was surprised by its sweet flavour. And so Oolong tea processing was born.

 The Colonial Era
In the early 16th century, Portuguese merchants brought back tea from China. Little did they know how this travel memento would rock the British Empire. In 1662, when Princess Catherine of Braganza (of Portugal) married theKing of England, she introduced the culture of drinking tea to English courts. And there began the romance between the English and tea. The British wanted tea, China grew tea, and the only way to trade it was with silver. This proved far too dear for England’s growing desire for tea.

So the ingenious English decided to trade addiction for addiction: Opium for tea. The First Opium War between China and the British Empire had roots in the plants of poppy and tea.

Black Tea-The British wished to break China’s monopoly on tea. So, the East India Company designated Scottish botanist Robert Fortune with the task of introducing Chinese tea shrubs to British-India (particularly India and Sri Lanka). That’s how black tea was born in the soils of the Himalayan town of Darjeeling and the fertile plains of Assam. Tea production and trade flourished under the East India Company and Darjeeling became synonymous with black tea. As the tea trade grew so did the expansion of sugar plantations, for the British wanted sugar with their tea.

While the British Raj expanded into the subcontinent, civil war was brewing in the New World. Fed up with the British rule and their tea tax,the Sons of Liberty group,on the evening of 16th December 1773, decided to dump an entire shipment of tea from the East India Company into the Boston Harbour. An event that changed history forever. The Boston Tea partyculminated in the American Revolution, and the creation of the United States of America.

Post-Colonial Times
Tea trade hasn’t changed much since its beginnings, in terms of geography. China continues to dominate the world with green tea production while India dominates in black tea. The growing popularity of green, white and oolong tea has pushed both the Indian and Chinese markets to diversify. The volume of tea produced globally though has grown exponentially, and today it isa whopping4 billion kilos per year!Second only to water as the most consumed beverage in the world, the demand for tea only grows.

China, India, Turkey, Russia, Morocco, Ireland and the still amorous United Kingdom are the world’s largest tea drinking nations. With technology, tea is more accessible now. It allows teato be processed, preserved and transported in clever, creative ways to reach every corner of the globe and please eachspectrum of society.

From Orient to Occident – tea travels as cha or te, carrying with it glorious goodness and a handful of history.Legends, lore, and stories of kingdoms, colonies, and revolutions: This classic drink could tell a tale of intrigue, love and adventure, like none other.

 
Spicy Tea Tales: It was in the English Tea Gardens in England that women were first allowed to socialize with men, in public.