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Brief history of tea

Posted on October 07, 2014 | 0 comments
From Buddhist monks using it in their religious ceremonies to American revolutionaries tossing it in to Boston Harbor, tea has become more than a beverage; it has become an event. For nearly 5,000 years this drink has been a source of medicine, meditation, piracy, political upheaval, social order, congregation, and superstition. While the roles tea has played in Eastern and Western civilization are abundant, it is derived from a plant native to Central and Eastern Asia.
Tea has exerted a profound influence on societies and cultures throughout the world so that there are unique ceremonies in various cultures and most parts of the world have social etiquettes concerning the preparation and drinking of tea as well as social customs regarding how, when and where to drink it. Many myths, legends, poems and proverbs surround tea and maintain its mystique. Today tea enjoys an unparalleled and enduring popularity. The story of tea is truly intertwined with the story of Mankind.

The Discovery Of Tea
Tea is said to have been discovered in the early part of the third millennium BC by the legendary Shen Nong (dubbed a “Divine Healer”). He loved to discover and teach about new herbs to be used as medicine. According to legend, water was boiling in his garden when a Cemellia sinensis leaf fell into the pot and tea was discovered. The Emperor, upon drinking this brew, discovered it to be refreshing and energizing. Other versions of the tale cite that the source of the tea leaves was not from a tree above the pot, but rather from a camellia branch which was fueling the flames below it. Still others attempt to validate the authenticity of the event by affixing a date to Shen Nong's experience, asserting that it occurred in either 2737 BC or 2690 BC.

ChaJing by Luyu
Since the discovery of tea and over the centuries the tradition of drinking tea brewed from fresh tea leaves in boiling water has been firmly entrenched in China
Tea was certainly known as a beverage in the time of Confucius (c.551-479 BC) and grew in popularity during the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). By the time of the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD) tea was the national drink of China, spreading from court circles to be popular throughout Chinese society. It was during this time that the practice developed of sending finest teas to the emperor's court as a tribute to him.
At this time, it was manufactured in brick form: the tea leaves were pounded and pressed into a brick-shaped mold, then dried. To prepare the tea, part of the brick was ground down, and the result was boiled in water. Later, powdered tea was developed from green tea leaves. This gained popularity during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 AD). Boiled water was poured onto the powder and left to brew, and the resulting liquid was whisked into a frothy tea. It was during this period that tea drinking became popular in Japan, reintroduced there by a Zen Buddhist monk who had been studying in China. So in Japan, it was the Sung method of preparing tea that took hold.
In China, tea fell out of favour as a drink during the years of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368), when the Mongol rulers considered the drinking of tea a symbol of decadence. But it returned to popularity under the native Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). After years of foreign rule, this Dynasty saw a revival of all things considered quintessentially Chinese, and tea was certainly one of them. It was in this period that tea began to be brewed by steeping cured loose leaves in boiling water. Because it was at this time that the tea was first tried by Europeans, it was this method of making tea that became popular in the West, and remains so to this day. Also under the Ming Dynasty there was experimentation with different types of teas, fermented black teas, unfermented green teas, and the semi-fermented variety that it is now known as oolong, and within these categories with innumerable different varieties.
But the variation in types of tea in China is not even half the story. The history of tea in China and Japan is bound up with its cultural significance.For tea was a drink that would take on literary, artistic and even religious overtones. This can be traced to the writing of a fascinating treatise on tea by a Chinese scholar called Lu Yu. By the time Lu Yu wrote the Ch'a Ching, The Classic of Tea, in the eighth century, tea was already a fairly common drink in China. But Lu Yu's work was the single most influential aspect in developing the cultural significance of tea.
Development of Japanese tea ceremony
Tea was probably introduced to Japan in the eighth century by a Chinese priest, and for some years the practice of tea drinking remained the preserve of Buddhist priests. In 1191 a Zen Buddhist monk named Eisai arrived from studying in China bringing new seeds, and introduced the tea ceremony. The ceremony was based on the tea-drinking rituals of Zen Buddhist monks in China, who believed tea's properties as a stimulant were an aid to meditation. This started a revival in tea drinking, and Eisai went on to write the first Japanese book on tea, the Kitcha-Yojoki, or Book of Tea Sanitation.
Gradually tea drinking became popular outside religious circles, and the Tea Ceremony came to be regarded as the quintessential expression of social sophistication and elegance. As with the tea preparation and drinking described by Lu Yu, the Ceremony is about much more than just making a hot beverage. The Taoist idea of trying to find beauty in the world was combined with the Zen Buddhist belief that the mundane and particular were of equal importance with the spiritual and universal. Thus the ritual of tea making expressed the quest of greatness in the smallest details of life, and the formalised acts of graciousness and politeness that are integral to the Ceremony are an outward form of an inner belief in the importance of peace and harmony.
This did not happen overnight though, and early tea ceremonies in Japan were often quite boisterous affairs that could include gambling and the consumption of alcohol. But the ceremonies gradually became more and more refined, in large part due to the personalities and influences and three Tea Masters. The last of these, Sen No Rikyu (1522 - 1591), lived for much of his life in Kyoto, where he studied Zen. It was Rikyu who incorporated the essence of Zen into the Tea Ceremony, and it is in the form he developed the Way of Tea (chado) that is practised through the Tea Ceremony to this day.

How Tea Arrived In The West
Tea arrived in Europe via Dutch and Portuguese sailors at the beginning of the 17th century. They had trade relations with China and brought the tea to Britain and Holland at the outset, where it was sold at auctions and became very popular among the aristocracy and the wealthy. The beverage's initial high price prevented it from circulating among the western population at large.
The tea trade was a significant factor in establishing connections between east and west. In China, tea leaves were used as a substitute for coins. In Europe, tea was used as a symbol of high status and as a stimulus for many technological developments, for instance, the development of fast sail boats such as the "Clipper", which shortened the time it took to sail from China to Europe and made it possible to provide shipments of fresh tea to the west.
British companies established for the importing tea, such as the "John Company" and "The East India Trade Company" became trade monopolies, unprecedented in size and power, and were ordained by the royal family and empowered to operate in any way necessary to ensure the continuous supply of this popular drink. At the beginning of the 18th century, with the expansion of tea imports to the west and the consequent decrease in its price, tea became a common product enjoyed by all sectors of the population.

Tea In America: The Boston Tea Party
At the beginning of the 18th century, tea arrived in Northern America, quickly becoming a desirable drink there as well. In New York and Boston, London-style teahouses started developing, where the drink was sold to the general public. At around that time, the British Empire decided to place taxes on the tea supply to the colonies of North America who were under their power. This decision greatly angered the American settlers who decided to boycott the taxed products in protest. Whenever the British ships arrived at the harbors laden with tea, the settlers would start demonstrations which forced the ships to leave without unloading their wares. The most famous occurrence in this regard was named the "Boston Tea Party", during which a group of settlers boarded one of the ships anchored in the Boston harbor and started throwing hundreds of crates of tea from its deck into the sea. England retaliated to this by sending military forces to the harbor and shutting it down. This event marked the begini ng of the American War of Independence.
Tea In The 20th Century
A significant rise in tea consumption resulted from the appearance of tea bags at the beginning of the 20th century. The inventor of tea bags, a New York tea merchant by the name of Thomas Sullivan, had a custom of sending tea samples in white silk bags to his customers, and they were intrigued by this new ground-breaking product. Upon the appearance of tea bags, the price of tea was lowered. The possibility of drinking tea without special brewing utensils made tea suitable for mass consumption, turning it into the world's most prevalent hot beverage.
During the 20th century, the source of tea crops spread throughout the world, from Japan to Africa and South America. Towards the end of the 20th century, an additional rise in the western world's tea consumption occurred and also in evidence was a demand for quality teas.
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