THE SAGA OF TEA

THE SAGA OF TEA

 

Today, tea is the world's most popular beverage after water. No matter what the legend says, tracing tea's original roots proves difficult. It is probable that the tea plant originated in regions around southwest China, Tibet, and Northern India. Chinese traders may have traveled throughout these regions often and encountered people chewing tea leaves for medicinal purposes.

THE HISTORY OF TEA

THE SAGA OF TEA

Tea's origin story is interspersed with a blend of myth and fact and colored by ancient concepts of spirituality and ideology.

According to Chinese legend, the history of tea began in 2737 B.C.E. when the Emperor Shen Nong, accidentally discovered tea. While boiling water in the garden, a leaf from a looming wild tea tree strayed into his pot. The Emperor enjoyed drinking the steep water so much that he was impelled to research the plant further. Legend has it that the Emperor discovered tea's medicinal properties during his exploration.

Indian history attributes the discovery of tea to Prince Bodhi-Dharma, an Indian saint who founded the Zen school of Buddhism. In the year 520, he left India to preach Buddhism in China. To prove some Zen principles, he vowed to meditate for nine years without sleep. It is said that towards the end of his meditation, he fell asleep. Upon awaking, he was so perturbed that he cut off his eyelids, and threw them to the ground. Legend has it that a tea plant sprung up on the spot to sanctify his sacrifice.

A CONTEMPORARY TEA CUSTOM SURFACED

THE SAGA OF TEA

It was not until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that tea was prepared by steeping the whole leaves in water, like it is today. Instead of squashing tea leaves into blocks, or grinding them in a stone mill, the tea leaves were dried, rolled, and then heated in iron woks to stop the oxidation process. The brewing process simply involved steeping the tea leaves in hot water, without the need for a whisk.

A Chinese monk brought this new rolled tea with him during his travels to Japan in the 17th century. Shortly thereafter, a tea trader in Kyoto invented a new Japanese method of steaming, drying, and rolling green tea during the 18th century. This process, and type of tea became known as Sencha, and is now a mainstay in Japanese tea culture.

THE BEGINNING OF AN ENGLISH LOVE AFFAIR

THE SAGA OF TEA

The English were not inclined towards tea immediately. Coffee remained the preferred drink in coffee houses patronized mainly by men. The tea hobby caught on slowly with women who perceived it as a genteel drink. In 1657, the first shop to sell tea in England opened, run by Thomas Garraway. The shop sold tea imported by the Dutch and contributed to the rise in its popularity in London's cafes and coffee houses.

The drink gained further acceptance when Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese royal, who adored tea and introduced the concept of tea time to the court. Soon thereafter, a key competitor to the Dutch, the British East India Trade Company, established their first foothold in the East by securing a tea factory in Macao.

TEA REACHES TO INDIA

THE SAGA OF TEA

Despite the East India Company's influence, China remained the primary source of tea for Western demand up until the mid-1800s. Looking to discover tea growing mysteries and to end their dependence on Chinese tea, the British Tea Board sent Robert Fortune, an English botanist, on a covert mission to China. Disguised as a Chinese merchant he traveled around the country learning about farming and processing techniques. Most importantly, he sent back tea samples and brought back Chinese tea experts who played an important role in enabling British tea planting and experimentation in India.

TEA CULTURE IN AUSTRALIA

THE SAGA OF TEA

Australia broke free from her British legacy but remained intact for its tea drinking cultural heritage. Despite the warm/hot weather, Australians still indulge a cup of so-called “morning tea” and the “afternoon tea”, often served with small portions of food. Australians can’t neglect the influence of wellness and fitness fascinations that have taken over the world and, following, put tea and other healthy beverages into focus. Instead of satiating in the ill effects of sugar-laden soft drinks, consumers are reaching out for a comforting cuppa instead.

Aussies be Aussies – they’ll always find ways to stay true to their heritage.

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