History of tea

History of Tea

Tea comes from the plant “Camellia Sinensis.” Tea is made from one type of leaf or a blend of leaves. Black tea and green tea both come from the Camellia Sinensis. Red Tea is originally from South Africa is caffeine free and also has some antioxidant properties. Herbal tea comes from roots and berries and is called a “Tisane.” Herbal Tea is not considered a true tea however, and does not have the antioxidants that black, green, oolong and red teas have. Tea comes from China originally and is picked now all over the world, such as Siam, South China, Burma, Assam, Kenya, South Africa and other countries.

The T’ang Dynasty was in 618-906 AD, and during this time Taoist and Buddhist monks used tea for spiritual reasons. The origin of tea can also be found in the “cha ching” wrote by Lu Yu. “The Jade Queen” was also a name for tea and symbolized the mysteries of the universe. People of this time would drink teas made of things such as orange blossoms, onions, peppermint and lotus. Tea, however, was prepared in which to experience peace and serenity, and to drink and meditate with.

During the Sung Dynasty of 960-1279 tea bricks were thrown away while the tea leaves were ground into a fine powder to make a whipped frothy tea. The cups used were wide brimmed and were brown, blue, and purple in color. During the Ming Dynasty of 1358-1644 the west was introduced to tea. Tea cups used were white in order to enhance the color of the tea.

In modern times tea became popular between the east and west. The 1800s saw England becoming addicted to tea. Tea and Opium smugglers were the head of trade. The opium war from 1839-1842 was between England and China, and China had to sign a free treaty. Soon, however, England would create tea production in India, and China became less popular for tea cultivation.

Tea consumption really began in the east and was introduced to the west through trade. In 1618 Russia was introduced to tea, but tea was difficult to obtain, because they could not trade with China. In the eighteenth century Russia formed a caravan route of camels that would journey for many months. They would meet at a neutral zone between Russia and China, and than take the tea back to the aristocrats of Russia. Russian peasants would use a “Samovar,” an urn that stores hot water, and was used for tea.

England at one time thought tea was unhealthy and so tea became a controversial issue. Tea was also taxed very highly. Queen Elizabeth I thought tea to be a valuable investment, and in 1600 she formed a pact of trade in the East with the East India Company. The company was involved with the rise and fall of the British Colonial Empire for over 250 years. Tea became an afternoon affair in England in the 1700s. Cakes, pastries and sandwiches accompanied the precious pot of tea. Tea gardens flourished all over England. In America, colonists tried to copy England by having tea gardens similar to those in London. Tea was still misunderstood and unfavorable among Americans, but by the American Revolution tea was being drunk by trappers, early settlers and soldiers. People in high society traded tea for liquor.

Tea became a political issue when Westminster Parliament decided to tax tea. Britain’s East India Company was not doing well financially and in order to help the company, Britain decided to tax the tea. The company would not have the regular duties and tariffs, and this would cause American merchants to be undersold. The American colonists wanted representation with the taxation, and thus the famous Boston tea party occurred. This happened when three ships carrying tea were sent by the East India Company, but were turned away by all ports except for Boston. Men dressed as Indian Mohawks stormed the ships and destroyed them using hatchets and axes, and all of the tea was dumped into the ocean.

Sri Lanka and India now provide 70% of the world’s tea. Kenya is also producing tea, and America is now the second biggest importer of tea.

Deidre R. Bissonette

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