History of English Tea

Although nobody really knows for sure who first had the idea of adding hot water to the leaves of the Camilla Sinensis plant to make a brew, we do know that tea is a very ancient beverage. In England, where afternoon tea could be considered a national pastime, it was only introduced recently from a historical standpoint.

Much like it's opposite numbers of beer, coffee and wine, we can only guess the origins of how the leaves ended up floating in hot water and who first tasted the resulting mixture. It may have just been the result of an accident, with leaves from the bush floating into a heated kettle. However, what is known with a little more certainty, is that the practice began over 5,000 years ago in China.

History of English Tea - Fresh Tea Leaf

Which ever way it started, it wasn't long before the art spread following the discovery, by those early pioneers, of the taste and health benefits. It was in 800 AD, that an ex-monk by the name of Lu Yu wrote the Ch'a Ching, which contained all that was then known about the ways of making tea. Buddhist monks, particularly one named Yeisei, spread the word to Japan where it quickly became a royal favorite.

It was in the early 17th century that seaman from Portugal and other western countries began venturing to the Orient where they were introduced to a beverage that was unlike any other they had tasted in their native countries. From their travels, they began returning with many treasures including the precious tea leaves. It wasn't long before the importation of this then expensive novelty, grew rapidly and at the same time made many of those early seafarers very wealthy.

Towards the middle of the 17th century, Great Britain eventually got in on the act and started importing tea from China and the East Indies. It became so popular that afternoon tea is now a national institution in the UK. The term 'everything stops for tea' is not just a saying, but a regular part of the day for a large proportion of the population.

In the early days, there were two main importers of tea to the Western world. The John Company and the East India Company eventually merged having managed to spread the word about this novelty beverage. Towards the end of the 17th century, tea imports totalled some 40,000 pounds.

It wasn't long after that tea became a commodity with over 240,000 pounds being imported into Great Britain by 1708 with some soon being sold to common food shops in both Holland and France. There are not many places in Europe that have the right climate to grow tea. The drink that had been imported and made popular by royalty was now consumed by nearly everyone.

Around the same time, tea was also being introduced to other nations around the world. The Russian Tsar Alexis is said to have received several chests as a gift in the early 17th century. By the end of it the Russians were engaging in regular trade with China across their common border. The need to travel over a year across thousands of miles kept the price high. But eventually the practice spread throughout society and tea could be found in every samovar.

The United States, as some may remember, had a little 'ceremony' called the Boston Tea Party. As an act of protest against the heavy-handed British government, several Americans decided to dump large quantities of the good into the Boston harbor. In reaction, the British government closed the port and troops occupied the city. A revolution began. The results that followed changed the world forever.

Be a part of history and enjoy a fine cup of tea today.


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