Ancient Tea

The first tea, according to legend, was created by mistake when the Chinese emperor and master herbalist Shen Nung tasted boiled water "contaminated" with leaves from a nearby tea bush some 4700 years ago (Stash Tea 2006). Other legends speak of an Indian prince Bodhidharma, who chewed on tea leaves in order to keep awake for meditation. The drink became popular in the east, especially in China (which had a character especially for "tea" by the third century AD) (UK Tea Council 2006). Later the tea was introduced to Japan by the Japanese Zen Budhist, Yeisei, and the Japanese tea ceremony became a popular and sacred art.

Chinese Character for "tea"
(Character 2006)    

Japanese tea ceremony video.
(Japanese Tea Ceremony 2006).

Europe and Tea

Although tea was discovered many thousands of years ago in Asia, Europe knew little about tea until the beginning of the 17th century AD. Its interesting to note that at first merchants didn't even know how to consume tea. "One reference suggests the leaves be boiled, salted, buttered, and eaten!" (Stash Tea 2006). The first European power to get access to tea was Portugal , which had a powerful navy that could guarantee relatively safe shipping. Later, Holand began to trade in tea as its own navy became more developed (Stash Tea 2006). As tea became more and more popular in countries such as Holand and France, and as the volume of trade between Europe and China increased, tea became widely consumed throughout Europe (UK Tea Council 2006).

Merchant Ship (Skipper) 2006)

First Tea in the American Colonies

Interestingly enough, tea became very popular in the American colonies in cities such as New Amsterdam, before Europe even really acquired a taste for tea (which was probably because a lot of the colonies were influenced by Dutch culture). " on acquiring the colony, the English found that [New Amsterdam] consumed more tea at that time then all of England put together" (Stash Tea 2006).

(Early New Amsterdam Map, 2006)

Tea Plantations all over the world

With major companies holding monopolies on tea trade by the beginning of the 19th century, other sources of tea were sought after to minimize costs (Tea Timeline 2006). Chinese tea was first introduced to India for major cultivation by the East India Company  in the 18th century, however this cultivation project was not successful until early to mid 19th century. Since then other tea plantations were established in Sri Lanka (1840's-1850's) and Darjeeling (1856) (Tea Timeline 2006). Both are still leading producers of tea for companies such as the Stash Tea Company (Stash Tea 2006). Later on, other British colonies were used to cultivate tea for the growing tea craze. In 1910 Sumatra, Indonesia and later Kenya and other parts of Africa become big cultivators of tea plants (Tea Time Line 2006).

Tea Today

Today tea is a part of the world culture. In Britain afternoon tea and tea time, introduced by Anna the Duchess of Bedford in 1840 is observed by citizens of all classes (Tea Timeline 2006). In Russia tea follows every good meal and rivals only vodka for the national beverage (The Stash Tea 2006). In countries such as India, China, and Japan, where tea became part of the culture early on (and later reinforced in India by the influence of English culture), tea drinking and ceremony is sacred and defining (UK Tea Council and The Stash Tea 2006).  The middle east also has deep tea-drinking roots, with references to tea going back as far as the 9th century AD (UK Tea Council) 2006). Although relatively young in age, America's tea-drinking roots go back to Europe, however tea drinking has not been a big part of the culture until only recent times with recent scientific research coming out confirming the beneficial properties of tea (American's Growing Taste 2006), and the fact that bottled tea is finally convenient (Altman 2001).