When we think about tea throughout history, it’s easy to picture Victorian British royals sipping from tiny teacups with their pinkies up, but tea has a much more complex history dating back to ancient civilizations.
The first teas didn’t quite look like what we drink now. In fact, many original teas were nothing more than plants in hot water. However, we’ve evolved quite a bit, and now you can enjoy thousands of different variations.
The next time you sit down and enjoy a cup of green tea, herbal tea, or classic orange pekoe, consider the long history of where your drink came from.
In 2016, archaeologists discovered the world’s oldest tea, dating back to the Han Dynasty some 2,200 years ago.
Legend has it that the first cup of tea happened by accident. Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting under a tree in 2737 B.C. when a few stray leaves blew into a pot of water his servant was boiling. Curious, he tried this concoction and enjoyed it, and it soon caught on in the rest of China.
From this point on, tea became the most popular and beloved drink in the country, soon to expand to the rest of the world.
Tea was one of the most common items traded along the Silk Road out of China and into other countries and continents, including Japan and Europe.
Nowhere did tea become more popular than in Britain. It became a popular beverage in the royal courts during Charles II’s reign, as it is said that his Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza, was an avid tea drinker who insisted that the drink be served among the elite.
In fact, over the next few centuries, tea smuggling became a major societal issue. Beginning in the 1600s, when the British East India Company held a monopoly on traded goods, tea became a commodity everyone had to have.
During the conquest of the Americas, tea was brought over by the European explorers and enjoyed throughout the continent. In fact, it ended up playing a central role in one of the most important events in American history: the American Revolution.
In December 1773, in the middle of the night, a group of colonists dumped 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor. Known as the "Boston Tea Party," this event was a massive protest in response to Britain’s decision to implement the Tea Act, which enabled the monopoly on tea trading to the British East India Company to undercut American tea trading.
Since then, tea has regained its popularity and disassociated with any type of politics. Now, it is simply a hot beverage that many enjoy around the world as an alternative to coffee, in a variety of flavours. To this day, millions of Americans consume tea on a regular basis.
One of the most revolutionary inventions in the history of tea was the invention of the tea bag in the early 1900s.
In 1901, a patent was filed for a “tea leaf holder” by two Milwaukee women, Roberta C. Lawson and Mary Molaren. This item closely resembles the tea bags used today. However, some argue that Thomas Sullivan, an American trader, populated the concept in 1908 when he handed out samples of his tea in small silk bags.
Since then, tea has remained a beverage beloved by people around the world, served in many different forms- from tea lattes to packaged iced tea.
In fact, now you can get tea that actually improves your oral hygiene! qii is a tea drink developed using a scientific formula to improve the condition of your mouth and keep you healthy. Try it for yourself and see the difference choosing a tea can make.
Begley, S. (2015). A brief history of the tea bag.Time.Retrieved from http://time.com/3996712/a-brief-history-of-the-tea-bag/.
History. (n.d.). The Boston Tea Party. Retrieved fromhttp://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-boston-tea-party.
Khaleeli, L. (2016). A brief history of tea in the UK.The Guardian.Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2016/sep/23/fancy-a-brew-google-doodle-celebrates-358-years-of-tea-in-the-uk.
Lewis, D. (Jan. 2016). Archaeologists find world’s oldest tea in the tomb of a Han Dynasty emperor.Smithsonian Magazine.Retrieved from:https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/archaeologists-find-worlds-oldest-tea-tomb-han-dynasty-emperor-180957790/.
UK Tea & Infusions Association. (n.d.). Tea- A brief history of the nation’s favourite beverage. Retrievedfrom http://www.tea.co.uk/tea-a-brief-history.