I would like to introduce you to a history of tea in 500 words. You can’t finish your cup of tea that fast!
It is widely accepted that the Camellia Sinensis (tea tree) traces its origins to South East Asia. While we don’t know the exact details of who first made tea from the plant we do know that it has been consumed in China for thousands of years. Early on tea was collected and processed from wild plants. The earliest known tea plantations were in Szechuan Province China.
Tea remained a regional beverage for years until it was popularized by Lu Yu (733–804), who wrote The Classic of Tea and performed somewhat of a “re-branding” of tea changing the name from Jia 檟 which had the same meaning as bitter plant to Cha 茶 disassociating tea with a bitter plant. Tea eventually grew to the point of being a major economic factor for China becoming one of the top income earners for the government, and even helped supply much-needed horses for their military via the Tea-Horse trade with Tibet.
Somewhere around 1590 in Fujian Province China Black Tea was first developed. Not long after in 1600 Queen Elizabeth formed the East India Company and gave it a monopoly on all trade in China. In 1645 the first shipments of Black Tea and in 1715 the first shipments of Green Tea made their way to England. Wu Long (Oolong Tea) was introduced in 1725.
In 1773 The East India Company obtains a monopoly to sell tea in all of the British Colonies, The Tea act is also passed this year which taxes all tea coming into British owned North American colonies. This is the latest in a series of taxes passed on the colonists by the British in an attempt to help pay the debts created by the French and Indian War. December 16, 1773 a little event later known as The Boston Tea Party happens and America’s love affair with tea is, at least for the time over. 1796 sees the introduction of white tea.
Under pressure to offset the massive toll tea purchases took on its treasury England begins selling Opium to the Chinese. This results in The Opium Wars in which China relinquishes Hong Kong to British control and allow other concessions.
In 1848 Robert Fortune is sent by the East India Company to pose as a Chinese tea buyer to gain seeds, plants and the secrets of the production of tea. Two trips were taken to complete this task, the first a failure. The second a resounding success that heralds the beginning of a massive tea industry in British controlled India.
In the year 1903 a patent for “tea-leaf holder” is issued, the precursor to the modern tea bag. The 1930’s sees the invention of the CTC (crush, tear, curl) method of tea production which is ideal for tea bag tea. Sweet Tea Junkie is founded in 2005, and offers it’s first line of teas in 2013. Done!
Photo Credit: Jakub Michankow