A Short History of Tea

This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Tea is the by far most popular drink in China, even though more and more Chinese are taking to drinking coffee, particularly as Starbucks and various native knock-offs are gaining in popularity. The origin of tea can be traced back to the Middle Kingdom and the Chinese have been drinking tea for close to 5 000 years. According to the legend, tea was invented as a drink by Shen Nong, the Divine Farmer, around 3 000 BC. According to legend, Shen Nong was very health-conscious and personally tested thousands of medicinal herbs to see which ones could benefit his people. Among these herbs, he found that the tea plant had numerous benefits, aside from its pleasant taste.

The tea plant is called Camellia Sinensis and is related to our own camellia, Camellia Japonica. In the wilds, the plant can grow to a height of up to 20 meters. In most plantations however, it seldom grows beyond two meters. The tea plant is evergreen and is currently grown in more than 40 countries. About 90% of all tea that is grown is grown in Asia and China is the oldest tea growing nation on the planet, with a tea tradition stretching back more than 2 000 years.

The Chinese word for tea, cha, is encountered in numerous languages. In Nepal, India and in the Middle East, it is typically referred to as Chai, whereas in Japan it still goes by its original name of cha. Etymologically, the English word tea can be linked to cha.

Tea drinking is typically something one typically connects with Japan, but it was not until the 8th century AD when it was introduced to Japan and the imperial court in Nara, from Tang dynasty China. In the 17th century, tea drinking spread to Europe through the care of Portuguese and then Dutch merchants. From Europe it spread to the New world and to the colonies.

England was one of the last seafaring nations to succumb to tea drinking and it was only through the influence of King Charles II, who grew up in Amsterdam and later married a Portuguese princess, that tea became introduced to the British nobility. From the nobles, tea drinking spread to the lower classes and it was mainly due to the commoners appetite for tea that the East India companies were founded. Some historians claim that the later Industrial revolution was fueled by the worker’s sumptuous consumption of tea with milk and sugar in it, which allowed them to work for long hours in the factories.

Tea can be divided into a number of types: green tea, Oolong and black tea. The difference lies in the degree of oxidation and fermentation. Oxidation happens when the tea leaves turn brown from lack of sap. Oxidation can be artificially induced by rolling the tea leaves so that the sap and the enzymes are freed. Through subsequent heating of the leaves, the oxidation process can then be stopped at any time. Tea, and especially green tea is known to contain copious amounts of antioxidants, as well as numerous vitamins and minerals. It thus constitutes a healthy drink of choice. Thus, next time you sit down to relax with a nice cup of tea, bear in mind not only that it is healthy, but also that it is a drink with a long history!

A Short History of Tea0Martin Lindeskog2012-06-25 15:06:57This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Tea is the by far most popular drink in China, even though more and more Chinese are taking to drinking…

Bamboo Tea

This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Typically tea is made from the processed leaves of Camellia Sinensis, but there are exceptions to this rule. One of the odder alternatives to tea made from tea leaves is tea made from dried and roasted bamboo. The taste is somewhat similar to roasted barley, that is, slightly towards the taste of popcorn. This particular cup of tea, which may not be all tea-aficionados’ cup of tea, was served in the 1000-year old Buddhist temple Zhongyansi, in the Southwestern province of Sichuan, China. Rich grooves of bamboo grows around the ancient temple, which may very well explain why the monks originally decided to make tea out of bamboo.

Photo by Linus Hammarstrand

Bamboo tea

 

Bamboo Tea0Martin Lindeskog2011-12-04 23:54:08This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Typically tea is made from the processed leaves of Camellia Sinensis, but there are exceptions to this …

Camels Loaded with Tea Bound for Russia

Here is the first post by Linus Hammarstrand:

Camels loaded with Tea bound for Russia (1878)

For millenniums, the tea trade between China and its surrounding neighbours was both politically important, as well as highly lucrative. One less well known trade-route is the northbound route, which connected China with Russia.

This picture was taken in 1878 by a Swedish traveller and reportedly no fever than 2000 fully laden camels passed by the photographer in one day!

tea caravan

Huge caravans, consisting of tens of thousands of camels, could frequently be encountered in the Gobi desert during trading seasons, as they transported black tea to the Russian frontier towns. At this time, in Mongolia and Tibet, as well as in Siberia, coinage was not widely used and the locals often settled their accounts by bartering tea.

Related: Martin Lindeskog‘s post, Tea and Gold.

Camels Loaded with Tea Bound for Russia0Martin Lindeskog2011-09-19 02:22:18Here is the first post by Linus Hammarstrand:

Camels loaded with Tea bound for Russia (1878)

For millenniums, the tea trade between China and it…