Tea's Story and History
True tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. There are as many as 1500 types of tea. From Oolong, Green, White, Yellow, Black, Red, Moroccan, Orange Pekoe, Rooibos, Earl Grey, Ginger, Sherpa, to 100’s of herbal infusions which can contain roots, seeds, flowers and fruits. Many Herbal teas do not contain any leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant. However they are still considered teas, just not the real Camellia Sinensis deal. The storage of Tea determines its freshness and quality - light, moisture, heat and oxygen are all enemies of all Tea. Its take months of travel and time for Tea to get into your kitchen so protecting its longevity is what Teavacs were designed to do. Our patented vacuum seal technology draws out air as it closes, creating an airtight moisture and oxygen free environment. Every time you open your TeaVac storage container, you'll smell fresh tea, just like the first time you opened the package.
Teas story is a fascinating look into how our society was ultimately formed, from the humble beginnings of Chinese discovery to the biggest businesses on the planet, Tea is one of the driving forces of global commerce and ultimately ties the destinies of East and Western culture. Be fascinated, read on...
CHINA: THE BIRTHPLACE OF TEA
Researching Tea is quite a job, there is so much information pertaining to the Camellia Sinensis plant its mind boggling. Especially when you start googling the times in history that tea was used in China from 2737 BCE! The story goes that The Red Emperor, Shennong was having water boiled when leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant mysteriously blew into the open kettle, being an experimenter of herbs - Shennong was not put off by the colored water and after much experimentation gave it his full approval. This account can actually be believed as this particular Red emperor being quite enlightened and educated was very interested in agriculture and all kinds of herbs for health remedies. The translation of his name is “God Farmer, Peasant Farmer” or simply “Agricultural God!” He is said to be responsible for such inventions as the hoe, plow, agricultural irrigation practices, and preserving seeds by boiling horse urine, and the weekly farmers market! He was also called other names such as Wugushen which means Five Grains' or Five Cereals' God" He wrote many articles and his book based on his expertise as a Pharmacologist was called “The Herbal” He is without doubt considered one of the 3 Sovereigns or 3 kings of Chinese mythology. It is said that while experimenting with herbs and flowers Shennong swallowed a flower which ruptured his intestines and he died before he could drink the antidote. This earned him yet another name - “The Medicine God.” So you see it's very likely Shennong is the inventor of TEA.
In 2016, in the mausoleum of Chinese Emperor Jing of Han in Xi'an, from the 2nd century BC, the earliest evidence of Tea was discovered. However written evidence dates Tea back much farther in history.
Tea was first associated with health and as a beverage had significance. It was during the Song Dynasty (960–1279), that proper production of tea soared. With many loose leaf styles, this was the birthplace of how we brew tea today. This is when powdered Tea was conceived, Matcha later became most popular, creating new export possibilities. From the mid-13th century tea leaves were roasted and crumbled. Centuries later around 1368 also referred to as the Ming dynasties, unfermented tea leaves were first pan-fried, then rolled and dried. This stops the oxidation process which turns leaves dark and allowed Tea leaves to remain green. With an abundant Tea industry, and just too much going on, ignored unprocessed tea leaves turned yellow, when brewed it had a different flavor and this is how we come to have Yellow tea. Another accidental discovery in Tea history.
In the 15th Century Oolong tea, was invented by partially fermented tea leaves, before frying. Western preferences pushed for tea leaves to being fully oxidized, fermented more, then pan fried and this is what we call black tea.
By the 8th century Tea was a serious commodity in China and foreign travelers being exposed to the tea drinking rituals of the merchant classes began taking samples back to their prospective countries. At this time Lu Yu, also referred to as the Sage of Tea, wrote the first book dedicated only to tea called the Ch’a Ching or Tea Classics. Lu Yu was also extremely knowledgeable in the art of herbs and their uses in human healing. Lu was one of the first people that learned and wrote about the importance of clean and pure water, especially when brewing tea. Japanese Buddhist monks who travelled to China to study Buddhism realized the importance of the “Tea Ceremony” and bought this new ceremonial beverage back to japan where its popularity soared as a cultural icon. They also perfected the art of making green tea powder, which today we commonly refer to as Matcha we think it’s a Japanese invention, which of course it is not. China is the real birthplace of tea.
EUROPEANS AND TEA… PORTUGUESE
Most European nations from the 1400’s felt it essential to spread their beliefs far and wide, which meant sending missionaries and religious men to all corners of the earth. This is how so many discoveries like tea were brought back to middle earth. The Portuguese, were part of the Spanish Empire, they possessed a strong shipping and naval fleet and sent Catholic and Jesuit Priests on most sailing expeditions. The main goal of these exploratory trips was to establish exclusive trading relationships between whatever countries they managed to enter. China being one of the largest land masses on earth and the oldest culture was naturally one of the places Europeans sets their sights upon. In the mid 1500’s Father Jasper de Cruz, a Jesuit Priest, was amongst the first European men to taste and drink tea. He was obviously quite impressed by the beverage as he wrote quite extensively on the subject. The Portuguese, excited by this new commodity worked out a trade agreement with China, concerning Tea. All they had to do was clear the pirates from and out of the waters around the island of
Macau, which lies at the end of the Pearl River Delta and the gateway to mainland China. Europeans well versed in the art of war, on the water had no trouble expelling pirates. To this day the island of Macau has been affected by this initial trade agreement. Teas history and export would be closely connected to the politics and occupation of the island of Macau for the next 500 years! In fact today there are all kinds of gambling resorts on the island of Macau whose history can be traced back to European religion and conquest.
THE DUTCH EAST INDIA COMPANY
The Portuguese successfully brought tea to Europe. Unloading their ships in Amsterdam, France and the Baltic regions, mainly Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Having established markets for the new tea leave, demand grew and the newly formed Dutch East India Company (1602 - 1800) began encroaching upon Portuguese trade routes and treaties. This was all tied to religion and the Spanish empire. Dutch, Belgium and Luxembourg all fought vigorously to escape Spain's rule in the 80 years’ war from 1558 to 1648. Successful at last, Dutch merchants with the help of the Dutch East India Company began establishing new trade with China and tea began an economic boom for all those who had a piece of the action. Tea when it first reached European shores was a wealthy man's drink. At one point, because of taxation, in the early 1700’s tea was 100 shillings a pound! More than a month’s wages for most skilled men in 1700! This was a hell of a lot of money and caused a frenzy in the TEA TRADE! The Dutch East India company or in Dutch (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC) is said to be the first public company to issue negotiable shares. The Dutch East India Company was the first global corporation and became the blueprint for mega corporations of the future. The company charter allowed them to maintain armies, execute those who broke the rules, build forts, expand territories and establish treaties with foreign powers. They operated their own shipyards in Amsterdam and the tea trade (amongst other goods, like spices and slaves) helped them become one of the most powerful trading companies on earth! The VOC thrived for 200 years! Amsterdam became the most important shipping hub on the European continent and indeed the world. It’s no surprise that the Dutch introduced tea and coffee to the Americas, first brought to New Amsterdam, now called New York.
ENGLAND AND TEA
Wow, can tea get more exciting? Global enterprises, empires colliding, pirates, Chinese - Japanese tea masters. Enter the British and your answer is YES IT CAN! Tea was not popular in England until King Charles II was paired through marriage with the Portuguese princess Catherine de Braganza in 1662. The marriage was a treaty between England and Portugal, giving Britain rights to the East Indies, Bombay (India) and Tangiers in North Africa, a strategic area to patrol and dominate trade in the Mediterranean Sea. All the makings for the newly formed British East India Company (1600 to 1874) to rival the Dutch VOC in the tea trade and the lucrative trade of Asian goods. The goal of the British East Indies Company was to control Mediterranean trade and dominate militarily. It's no coincidence that officially the British navy was also formed around the same time as The British East India Company. British merchants on one side and the crown on the other, a perfect union of common goals. This brings us to back to Catherine Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland whose avid tea drinking spread to King Charles II and then to all the Nobel men and women of the England. By the 1700’s tea was the most popular drink in the British Isles! The British East India Company was granted an exclusive trading monopoly, basically on all Asian goods and tea was a big ticket. They were also granted the right to create money, government, arm itself, build forts and declare war.
It was only the wealthy who drank tea in the early 1700’s in England and in particular it was Lady Anne, the Duchess of Bedford that created High tea, because at this time of history people only ate breakfast and dinner and the gap in between was just to long for many people, so high tea became extremely popular (lunch) and still is. As tea popularity soared so did the establishments serving it, from Coffeehouses to Tea rooms to Tea gardens. Tea gardens were often public gardens where tea, often with live music and dancing was enjoyed by all classes. British society had a place to go even if you were not wealthy. In fact tea establishments were one of the few places women and men could be seen together without causing a scandal! This kind of tea equality upset the upper classes, (Aristocrats) they did not want their private tea drinking habits to be made public or indeed copied by others of a lower class. They lobbied parliament and had tea taxed so only the wealthiest citizens could afford the leaves from Asia.
BRITISH EAST INDIA COMPANY
The taxes imposed upon tea were simply ridiculous, taxes went over 100%, putting it out of reach for most of England's citizens. Teas demand became almost unbearable and the British East India Company did not have anything to trade the Chinese to get the tea. The demand far outweighed the need for silver and this created a problem, which would forever impact the east and west. The opium trade began with the British East India Company needing something to trade for tea. Sad as it may be, it is the truth, The British East India Company became drug manufacturers and dealers, they began to illegally cultivate and trade opium, mostly grown in India later Afghanistan to trade China for tea, silk, porcelain and everything Asian. In 1799 despite China banning the Opium Trade and making it illegal, and introducing the death penalty if caught bringing Opium into the country, it did not stop until well into the 19th century! The Opium war of 1840 is how Britain won the right to trade Opium and Britain was awarded Hong Kong for 200 years in return for the wars end!
This literally broke China's market wide open and crippled the social and economic structure of the country for over a century! The second opium related war ended in 1860, sealed China’s fate. Opium users would be supplied by a mega global company backed by British merchants and the English government. Tea came to England by trading it for opium and sometimes silver. 40% of the money that passed through the Bank of England at this time was said to be due to the tea and opium trade. Basically a mad cash flow that financed the 2nd largest global corporation on the planet.
Teas popularity was beyond comprehension, for example tea was adopted by the temperance movement for a solution to alcohol abuse, at all meetings tea was substituted for alcohol, creating even more demand. Taxation was not going to stop normal people from drinking tea and this opened an opportunity for many to get in on the tea action. Organized crime, and criminal gangs were given a chance of a lifetime and from early 1700’s to well into the 1800’s they thrived! Tea was something everyone wanted and the high price of taxation gave smugglers the justification for every kind of dirty trick. The goal was to be one step ahead of the British East India Company. This took cunning, organization and risk. The sheer scale of smuggling tea was fantastic, most of the population did not look upon this as a crime and there were many collaborations within society to make tea available. Of course money was the instrument that made it all possible. Sadly it was often the end user who suffered, with additives like poisonous copper carbonate, sheep's dung, random plant leaves, previously brewed tea leaves, were just some of the things being added to tea. It was a double edged sword with additives coming directly from China and others once the tea arrived in England. What started as a few smugglers supplementing their income turned into the largest criminal network in the world? Tea was for all intents and purposes England’s drug of choice. Smugglers managed to import into England, Ireland and Scotland more tea than the British East India Company. Some say as much as 7 million lbs. per year! It wasn’t until 1783, the youngest newly elected Prime Minister, 24 year old William Pitt, made good on his promises to abolish the fraudulent Tea tax in 1784. Literally overnight massive criminal activity ceased in the UK.
THE TEA CLIPPERS
In the1830’s the tea trade became a free for all, meaning that anyone with a ship and connections could import tea into England and the new world. This ushered in the era of The Tea Clippers, with their sleek lines, 3 tall masts, up to 20 stories high, an abundance of sails, sometimes over 12,000 yards, the Clippers were a revolution in speed. Previous boats could only do 150 miles per day, The Tea Clippers could do 250! This opened up a whole new kind shipping service and the gold rush of the west relied upon Clippers to get people and supplies to their destinations as quick as possible. The lucrative opium trade also used the Clippers to bring drugs across the planet. Modern day sailing and racing like the America’s cup all owe their origins to The Tea Clippers, who often raced from the ports of China to the Thames river basin. 14,000 miles was not uncommon and these exciting, highly publicized races were the birth of publicly accepted gambling. For almost 30 years betting on your favorite Clipper to enter the Thames estuary was an utterly exciting endeavor. With major newspapers in
England and the America’s reporting on who just entered what sea was a 4 month event! The Tea race of 1866 is the most famous, with 2 ships, the Ariel and the Taeping leaving Fuzhou harbor China at the same time and racing for 97 sea days arrived on the opposite side of the planet to the Thames estuary virtually at the same time! Both captains made a gentleman's agreement that they would split the 10 shillings per ton (Prize) the winning vessel would receive. Never again would the race be this close or the media frenzy so hyped. Once again Tea takes center stage in what eventually evolved from the Tea Clippers to steam power to the modern day diesel powered giant container vessels.
AMERICA AND TEA
Dutch traders brought Tea to the America’s. New Amsterdam, was a Dutch military and trading post for protecting the Dutch West India Company’s fur enterprise. This is where Tea first arrived, however in 1664 before widespread tea distribution could take place - 4 English war ships arrived with quite an amazing offer to the residents of New Amsterdam. Surrender and keep all of your commercial rights. Since most of the inhabitants of New Amsterdam were not Dutch, they surrendered without a shot being fired. New York was born. By the 1720’s tea was regular cargo on all English ships heading to the America’s. The high taxation of Tea in England also applied to the colonies and this inflated price, made smuggling a very viable business venture. It was often the Dutch who aided smugglers, and often were the smugglers, getting their own back from Britain who stole New Amsterdam. By 1770, anti-English feelings were the norm and smuggling was commonplace. Profits by the British East India Company fell sharply and this brought major lobbying to the British parliament in London. Bribery in the right places is a powerful political tool and the British government granted the British East India Company the exclusive right to ship tea to the America’s - Duty Free! Smugglers were outraged, being undercut by the very government that inflated teas price. This was the beginnings, of the American Revolution. John Hancock, one of the United States Founding Fathers was deeply involved in smuggling tea, he accumulated great wealth from smuggling and also financed the political caucus (Sons of Liberty) which was responsible for the organization of the Boston Tea Party. In 1773, one hundred colonists led by Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty, dressed as Mohawk Indians, and boarded 3 ships belonging to The British East India Company. It took only 3 hours to unload an estimated 350 chests of tea into Boston harbor. This represented 90,000 pounds roughly 45 tons of tea, which would cost almost 1 million dollars in today's marketplace!
With the British East India Company severely weakened, British parliament passed the Intolerable Laws Act which limited the political power of all colonists. This law sparked outrage amongst America’s colonists, up and down the eastern seaboard. Tea was at center stage when one of the most important moments in human history took place, The Boston Tea Party is considered one of the main events which led to American independence.
The British East India Company had been stockpiling Tea they could not sell in England because smugglers were selling tea at a cheaper price in the British Isles. The colonies then became the literal dumping ground for this old undesirable Tea. However colonists didn't get a better deal - they were expected to pay full price for what was often 2 to 3 year low grade tea blends. The Boston Tea Party wasn’t just about taxation and unfair practices - it was about basic fair human practices. Tea drinking in America took a downward spiral after the Boston Tea party, for a long time it was deemed unpatriotic to drink tea. This gave coffee the opportunity to get dug into the new American culture.
ALCOHOL VERSUS TEA
Few people know, in the late 1700’s and well into the 1800’s the average American consumed large amounts of alcohol. Water was associated with sickness and therefore deemed unhealthy. Americans in 1790 drank an average of 34 gallons of beer and cider, 5 gallons of spirits and 1 gallon of wine per year! Today’s American may drink 2.5 gallons of alcohol per year. Taverns were everywhere, places one could drink alcohol, read the newspaper, conduct business, drink coffee or tea, have some food or stay the night. It is said that many people had their mail delivered to taverns and that Taverns were the first post offices in America. This is another reason why TEA was such a great drink for the people. Boiling water purified it, the tea flavored it for a beverage people craved. It’s no wonder Teas popularity never waned, it was how many consumed water.
During the 1800’s America grew tremendously from the eastern seaboard to the western coast. Trains and transportation systems were built across the entire country. Tea followed the expansion and was always available wherever population existed. In 1904 at the St. Louis World's Fair, tea plantation owner Richard Blechyden was having a bad day, with heat exceeding 90 degrees, no one wanted any of his hot tea samples. He came upon the idea of pouring it over ice, otherwise he would have to throw it all away. He hit the jackpot, with people drinking his iced tea samples faster than he could supply them.
We must be fair published in 1877 a book written by Marion Cabell Tyree called Housekeeping in Old Virginia does have a recipe for ice Tea. However Blechyden commercialized this idea and by 1900, ice became easier to acquire. Nowadays 85% of tea consumed by Americans is iced tea. Congratulation Richard Blechyden! Then in 1908 a New York merchant Thomas Sullivan accidentally invented the tea bag. He filled tea samples in small silk bags to send to prospective clients. They thought he meant them to put the entire bag in hot water and were very disappointed when they received tea from him that was not packaged this way. Over 1.42 million pounds of tea are consumed in the U.S. every day. Who knew - that Americans were so instrumental in the way we all drink tea today.
The Netherlands, a small country but a mighty people managed to control some of the most important products in human history. Douwe Egberts is generally known for its coffee. However they have been in business since 1753. They have always been in the tea business and in 1937 the wife of the then managing director of Douwe Egberts came up with the brilliant marketing idea that English Tea would simply sell better. So they named a brand a tea after her favorite author Charles Dickens first published writings called The Pickwick Club. Pickwick Tea is one of the biggest brands on the planet. The Dutch also implemented a Tea grading system in 1880, funnily enough called orange Pekoe. This has nothing to do with color but more with the royal houses of The Netherlands. This royal certification of quality was another brilliant marketing idea and made ordinary Black Tea appear special.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT TEA
The Lipton Tea factory in Dubai produces 5 billion Tea bags each year. The total value of the Tea industry each year is over 20 billion dollars. Well over 3 million tons of tea is produced worldwide each year. The United Kingdom drinks 165 million cups of Tea per day. This works out to roughly 62 billion cups of Tea per year just for 1 country the size of an average American State. Tea is grown in mountain elevations between 3000 and 7000 feet. In geographic terms Tea is grown between the tropic of Capricorn and Cancer. With the equator being smack dab in the middle. More than 200 cups of tea can be brewed from 1 pound of loose leaf tea. 1 cup of tea has ½ the caffeine as a cup of coffee. Black tea makes up almost 75% of the worlds tea consumption. Most movies use Tea in place of alcoholic beverages. No wonder they can slam so many whiskeys!
TOP 10 TEA CONSUMING COUNTRIES
4. United Kingdom
7. New Zealand
TOP 10 TEA PRODUCING COUNTRIES
4. Sri Lanka
Related: Want to learn more about storing your loose leaf tea? Check out our blog post: How to Store Loose-Leaf Tea: 10 Ideas and Tips