History Of Tea

Tea, discovered by Shen Nung in 2737 B.C., brought fortune to England as well as loss of her colonies in the New World.

Little did Chinese Emperor Shen Nung realize that in 2737 B.C., when dried leaves blew into his cup of hot water, the beverage he discovered would cause sensations around the world. During this time, water was always boiled for hygienic reasons. The pleasant aroma and refreshing taste enchanted him and soon everyone in the realm was drinking tea.

Japan was introduced to tea by Yensei, a returning Buddhist priest residing in China at the time of the discovery. Tea was immediately embraced by Japanese society and resulted in the creation of the intricate Japanese Tea Ceremony, elevating tea to an art form.

Tea continued to travel throughout the Orient and it was during the time of the European explorers tea made its cultural broad jump. The East India Tea Company brought tea into Holland but its prohibitive cost of $100 per pound kept tea as a rich man's beverage until so much was imported that tea prices fell and was sold in small food shops.

In 1650, Peter Stuyvesant brought tea to the American colonists in New Amsterdam, later called New York. Soon the colonists were drinking more tea than all England.

In England, tea gardens, ornate outdoor events with fancy food and tea, fireworks and gambling, seemed to sprout up overnight as entertainment centers of the day and many British enjoyed the festivities offered there.

Russia discovered tea when ornate chests of the dried leaves were sent to Czar Alexis by the Chinese Embassy in Moscow in 1618. It became Russian custom to sip heavily sweetened tea from a glass in a silver holder. Russians also enjoyed honey or strawberry jam stirred into tea as their ethnic contribution. Even today, vodka and tea are the national beverages of Russia.

To recover extensive expenses from the French and Indian War, England levied a huge tax on tea imported to the colonies, mistakenly believing the colonists were so hooked on it they'd pay anything to keep their supply coming in. One night the men of Boston dressed as Indians, reminiscent of the French and Indian War, stole aboard the ships docked in the Boston harbor and threw the expensive tea cargo overboard and into the harbor. England reacted by having a raging fit, closing Boston's port and sending Royal troops into occupation of Boston. Because of this, colonists met to discuss these events and declared a revolution.

At one point, England even gave The John Company the power to not only import tea but to coin its own money, make peace, declare war and other priveleges previously only held by countries.

In the 1880's, America came to the forefront as the biggest importer of tea due to faster clipper ships and the ability to pay its debts in gold.

A tea plantation owner introduced iced tea to the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. It was an extremely warm day and his hot tea booth was being passed up by the crowds in favor of cold drinks. As desperate measure, since he was out time and money for even coming to the Fair, he added ice to the vats of liquid hot tea and in the process made it one of the highlights of the 1904 World's Fair.

The tea bag came along as a surprise. Samples of tea at the turn of the twentieth century were given out in small silk bags and instead of opening the bags, the tea bag in its entirety was being dropped into hot water by consumers. Quickly, a tea company sprang into action and patented the tea bag. Thomas J. Lipton was responsible for designing a four-sided tea he dubbed the 'flo-thru' tea bag, which allowed tea to steep more quickly in the cup than the customary two-sided bag.

Today tea is grown on tea estates and 70% of the tea we drink is grown in Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Argentina and China. The best climates for growing tea are those that are tropical or semi-tropical and tea can be grown on soil that is not fit for growing much of anything else. Today there are three basic types of tea: black, oolong and green and from these three types spring over 3,000 cultivated varieties. The leaves are picked at just the right moment designated by the tea estate manager, then crushed to start the oxidation process.

Amazingly, we drink virtually the same tea today that Emperor Shen Nung drank the day he discovered it. Americans drink 140 million cups of tea each day and 80% of that is in the form of iced tea.

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