History of Tea
It is believed that tea has been used for more than 4000 years. According to Chinese legend, tea was discovered by Emperor Shen Nung around 2737 BC. It was originally used as a medicinal beverage. Approximately 2000 years ago, the popularity of tea as a beverage began to spread widely throughout China.
In its earliest form, tea was pressed into cakes that had to be boiled for drinking. Sometime later, the process of grinding the cakes into powder and then whipping the powder into hot water with a bamboo whisk was developed. This method is still used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies – tea was introduced to Japan around the year 805. It wasn’t until after 1300 that the Chinese people developed a method of processing tea leaves into the loose-leaf tea we still enjoy today – a tea that is steeped rather than boiled or whipped.
Tea made it’s way to Muslim countries, via Arab traders, by the mid 16th century. In the first half of the 17th century, Dutch merchants began to import tea into Europe. China was the world’s source for tea, and had that distinction to itself, until the mid 19th century when the British began producing tea in India. They used the Assam sub-variety of tea plant found growing wild in India. The British grew their tea on plantations and used machines in its production.
Tea was very popular in early, colonial America. In 1773, the Boston Tea Party took place as a rebellion to the harsh duties imposed upon tea by the British.
It wasn’t until the early 20th century that mass-produced, packaged teas – the teabag was introduced in 1956 – began to outsell loose-leaf tea in the United States and England. The tea used was a very inexpensive, powdered black tea with virtually no unique personality from one brand to the next. Manufacturers of these mass-produced teas continually looked for cheaper product to fill their packages.
Luckily, the desire for good tea has never been lost and is, in fact, on the rise here in the United States. People are rediscovering fine, premium teas with distinct personalities and characteristics based on the tea’s origin, type and quality.