The history of tea is complex, spanning over centuries. As the story goes, tea was first ‘discovered’ when the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung dried leaves from the tea plant fell into his cup of hot water in 2737 BCE during his travels. The Emperor found the taste to be refreshing, and insisted upon having more. In China, tea became the national drink during the Tang Dynasty, 618-906 CE. By the late 700s, tea was brought to Japan by Buddhists monks, beginning the growth and popularity of tea.

Tea, however, did not arrive in Europe until the 16th century. Here, it was introduced by Portuguese traders and missionaries who had settled in the Far East. Come the late 16th century, the Dutch shipped to Europe for commercial import. The wife of Charles II was of Portuguese ancestry and she contributed to turning tea into a fashionable drink in Britain. Shortly thereafter, in the mid 1600s, the East India Company began importing tea to Britain. And so it began…

Almost 5000 Years of History:

2737 BCE
• The emperor of China, Shen Nung, ‘discovers tea’ when tea leaves fall in his cup of boiled water.

350 CE
• A Chinese dictionary cites tea for the first time as Erh Ya.

• Demand for tea grows as a medicinal beverage in China and cultivation processes are developed.

• Now titled Kuang Ya in the Chinese dictionary, the steps to preparing tea are defined.

• Traders from Turkey bargain for tea on the border of Mongolia.

• Japanese monks studying in China bring tea back to Japan.

618-907 T’ang Dynasty
• Tea becomes popular in China.

• The Chinese nature of tea is established as ch’a, a way of life.

• A tea tax is imposed in China.
• Chinese poet-scholar Lu Yu writes the first book of tea titled Ch’a Ching (The Classic of Tea), emphasizing Taoist beliefs.

960-1280 Sung Dynasty.
• Drinking powdered or frothed tea as well as tea infused with flowers becomes popular in China.
• Zen Buddhism catches on in Japan from China, which follow with tea-drinking rituals.

1368-1644 Ming Dynasty
• Tea is easily found throughout China.
• Steeping whole tea leaves in cups or teapots becomes popular.

• The Japanese tea ceremony is created.
• The status of tea becomes that of an art form, and practically a religion.
• Tea is cited by an English translation of Dutch navigator Jan Hugo van Linschooten’s writings, where he speaks of tea as chaa.

End of 1500s
• Japanese tea master Sen-no Rikyu opens the first independent teahouse, and plays a role in developing the tea ceremony.

• Europeans learn of tea through the Portuguese.

• The Dutch arrive with green tea.
• The Dutch East India Company market tea as medicinal.

• The Dutch introduce tea to New Amsterdam (New York)

• At Garway’s Coffee House, the first tea is sold for medicinal purposes in London, England.

• When Charles marries Catherine Braganza of Portugal, a tea drinker – tea drinking spreads.

• East India Company brings tea to the British King and Queen.
• The British take over New Amsterdam, rename it New York, and a British tea tradition begins.

• Tea is sold publicly in Massachusetts.

18th Century
• Controversy carries on in England and Scotland, some claim the price is too steep and tea is harmful and can even led to immorality.

• Tea drinking grows in British coffeehouses during Queen Anne’s reign.

• Annual tea importation to England tops 800,000 pounds.

• Thomas Twining’s coffee house in London becomes the first teashop called the Golden Lyon.

• Russian tea-drinking customs surface.

• Tea becomes the most well-liked beverage in the American colonies.

• The Townshend Revenue Act passes in British Parliament, imposing duty on tea and other goods that are imported into the British American colonies.
• Boston protests the act, which leads to an American boycott of British imports.

• Parliament withdraws the Townshend Revenue Act, eradicating all import taxes except those on teas.

• The Boston Tea Party occurs in protest of British tea taxes. Colonists disguised as Native Americans board East India Company ships unloading hundreds of chests of tea into the harbor.
• This is repeated in Philadelphia, New York, Maine, North Carolina, and Maryland throughout 1774.

• British Parliament passes the Coercive Acts in response to the American “tea party” rebellions.
• The Boston Port Bill is put into place, closing the Boston Harbor until the East India Company is reimbursed.

• After some British attempts to end the taxation protests, the American Revolution starts.
• Parliament reduces the British import taxes on tea in an attempt to end smuggling.

• 11 million pounds of tea are brought to England.

• Brothers Joseph and Edward Tetley begin to sell tea in Yorkshire, and success results in them setting up as tea merchants.
• John Horniman, from England, launches the first retail tea in sealed, lead-lined packages.

• The East India Company loses its monopoly in the trade with China.

• The East India Company develops the first tea plantations in Assam, India.

• “Joseph Tetley & Co” is founded.

• Afternoon tea is introduced by Anna the Duchess of Bedford.

• Tea is planted in Darjeeling, India.

• Twinings of England begins to blend tea for consistency.

• Thomas Johnstone Lipton opens a shop in Glasgow, using American merchandising methods.
• Lipton purchases tea estates in Ceylon, in order to sell tea at a lower price at his chain of 300 grocery stores.

• Englishman Richard Blechynden creates iced tea at the St Louis World Fair.

• New York tea importer Thomas Sullivan accidentally invents tea bags when he sends tea to clients in small silk bags, and they steep the whole bag.

• Lipton begins blending his tea in New York.

Present Day
• Tea is enjoyed throughout the world, and is the second most consumed beverage world wide – next to water.

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