A lesson in tea and coffee

A Lesson in Tea and Coffee

Tea and coffee are both drinks which inspire passion. More than just simple beverages, tea and coffee are part of a cultural phenomenon filled with social meaning and ritual. They both have fairly long, extensive histories—here’s a short look at them.

As old time legends have it, the origins of coffee can be traced to Ethiopia, where it grows copiously, and in the wild. Shepherds were apparently the first to discover its stimulating effects after their flock nibbled on some and couldn’t settle down for the night. Another ancient tale tells of a man who was shipped out to the desert to starve to death. In the desert, the man could only find the coffee plant, so he took chance, boiled it and lived. He then made it to the neighboring town of Mocha; the locals there thought his survival was a miracle.

According to researchers, coffee made its first appearance as a beverage in 1000 AD. Sufi monks, in Yemen, in the south of Arabia, supposedly made and drank coffee in their monasteries. Coffee was first brought to Yemen and Egypt through Ethiopia. The Arabians are the ones that get credit for making coffee, roasting it and brewing it, as we know it today. Coffee spread from the Middle East to the North of Africa by the middle of the fifteenth century. It made its way to Europe first through Italy; from there it went to Indonesia and soon enough it arrived in the Americas.

The Arabians weren’t keen to share their precious coffee beans; so in order to make sure no one else could grow them, they cooked or boiled the beans, making them infertile. However, according to one tale, an Indian by the name of Baba Budan smuggled out some fertile beans by taping them to his belly. This way, coffee arrived in Venice and spread all around Europe.

The Dutch began growing their own coffee plants and cultivating the beans in 1616 despite the Arab prohibition on exporting beans.  Dutch coffee was thus taken to Java and Ceylon. According to historians, by the early 1700’s Indonesian coffee was being drunk by Dutchmen and women by the cupful.

Today, coffee is ubiquitous. You really can’t go anywhere without seeing it. The art of brewing the perfect cup is something that is prided by many.

Tea has a long and varied history too. It can be traced back to ancient China. The emperor Shen Nung is credited with discovering tea about 5,000 years ago. As a wise and learned man, the emperor passed an edict that all water should be boiled before it was drank. One day, while the emperor and his court were traveling, they stopped for some water. The servants set up the pot to boil it and some dried leaves from a bush fell into it, making tea. The emperor, always inquisitive, tasted the new concoction and was delighted. This was the birth of tea.

Tea became a staple in China. It became so entrenched in Chinese daily life that Lu Yu wrote a guide book about the beverage codifying cultivation methods and drinking traditions. The book became a classic amongst Chinese society.

The Japanese weren’t introduced to the beverage until the priest Yeisei brought it back to his homeland from China some years later. After that tea was big in Japan.

Europe came to know tea by way of a Portuguese priest who brought the drink back by way of the East in 1560. Since then tea has become very popular.

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