BRIEF HISTORY OF TEA
The other day I caught myself having a cup of tea and having an entire historical-philosophical approach to this simple fact. Since I was a kid, I have always loved history and I am constantly wondering about the origin of things, people, languages, eating habits, etc. Bringing both facts together, my journey towards the history of tea started. The first things on my mind were how strong tea culture is today and how it all began? From school, we always remember the Asian spices which Europeans started to spread around the world and the beginnings of trade as we know it today.
The name of the plant tea comes from is Camellia Sinensis and it has properties such as theophylline, caffeine, tannin, and flavonoids. Some of the benefits those can bring us, tea consumers, are healing power of the skin, mood improvement, acceleration of metabolism, improvement of Asma and others. My curiosity in understanding tea benefits, culture and history took me to the podcast The Tea History Podcast on Spotify, The History of Tea YouTube video and many other interesting articles on which I’ll base my essay on.
A curious fact about tea is that the leaves, in the beginning, were chewed and used for medicinal purposes. I wonder about the terrible taste those had! Can’t even think of comparing it with the high-quality tea we drink today. Moving forward on the history of tea, but going back to its origins, the consumption of tea has been going on for thousands of centuries – in chewing form – and some more thousands of centuries after that – in the boiled drinking form -. It is still one of the most consumed beverages in the world, right in second place, behind water.
Picture taken by Gustav Pertillä
The legend says that emperor Shen Nung was boiling water and some leaves from a close tree fell into that. Some of the legends say that he had a stomachache and the tea healed him. Anyways, that is a brief history of some things that might have happened hundreds of thousands of years ago. That is the beginning of tea culture and how it started to spread inside Asia, more specifically in China. Of course, societies always have a structure and by that time, only wealthy people could have tea.
The Tang Dynasty period brought China a lot of developments, new discoveries are made in how to consume tea and various kinds of it. Its consumption was/is closely related to Buddhism, for example. By this time, not only rich people could drink tea but everyone, even though now, the tribute had to be paid in tea, making the emperor richer and the poorer, even poorer, as it always goes in history, right?
As time goes by, new political and social scenarios, trading starts non-stop along with new trade roads, and tea can reach multiple destinations. It surely did not stop and when black tea was discovered, quite the opposite! Because then, trading with Europeans began. Starting consumption by wealthy ones and then also spreading to all social classes, bringing a lot of profit from tea and along with that, conflicts, and competition in the tea market.
To own the tea market, Britain made Chinese society addicted to opium, and the downfall of the tea inventors was about to begin, along with the First Opium War (1839-42) and the Second Opium War (1856 – 60), ending with China defeated in both. Britain kept growing and colonizing areas for tea growing and huge plantations were built at a fast pace and much lower price with cheap – or slave – labor force. Nowadays, there are still plenty of people working on those plantations with inhuman living conditions.
It is important to me – as a consumer and after getting all the information about the history of tea production and the human labor it involves – to drink something that I can rely on, trusting the fresh products, the quality of it and from that, actually get the relaxation and joy it is supposed to bring me. Currently, there is not a right or wrong way to drink tea and worldwide, people adapt tea to their own culture, adding cream, sugar, milk, lemon or whatever. Tea has a big meaning, with historical and cultural aspects behind it, in the development of trading and, of course, numerous health benefits. And after writing and reflecting all that, excuse me, but I need some tea! For more interesting info about the history of tea (not that briefly), access the references below.
Written by Luiza de Oliveira Vago.
Cogito, 2020, The History of Tea. Available on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6S0hlv5sUbw&t=606s. Read on 2/10/2021.
Ecycle, Camellia Sinensis: o que é e para que serve, https://www.ecycle.com.br/camellia-sinensis/. Read on 10/10/2021.
The History of Tea, UK&Tea Infusions Association. Available on https://www.tea.co.uk/history-of-tea. Read on 13/10/2021.
Davis, 2020, What is the most popular drink in the world 2020? Article available on https://www.mvorganizing.org/what-is-the-most-popular-drink-in-the-world-2020/. Read on 13/10/2021.