Where is your beloved tea from?
Tea is the most popular beverage in the world, not because it’s a culture but because it’s affordable even to the poorest. Tea is the second most-consumed drink after water in the world and is spread across all the cultures that manifest it in their way. It is especially popular in Asia including Japan, India, China, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore as well as Sri Lanka, Europe, Canada, and the United States. It is also known as black pearl tea or tapioca tea. In India, the fascination with tea is on the next level. People here love tea more than anything, from street corners to lavish hotels; tea is an integral beverage of any restaurant
But do you know tea isn’t an Indian beverage? Recognized for its health benefit for over 5000 years, one would imagine that the health benefit would be a factor in the popularity of tea. But that’s not the entire case. In fact, the romance with tea has a fascinating long history. Let’s check that out!
The Origin of Tea
Tracing the origin of tea, it was first originated in China most probably the Yunnan region during the Shang Dynasty as a medicinal drink. But several legends are stating otherwise. One popular legend is of Emperor Shennong, who was drinking a bowl of boiled water when few leaves were blown from a nearby tree into his bowl. The water changed its color, taste, and smell. When the emperor took a sip, he was mesmerized by the authenticity and restorative flavor of it. And thus the tea was introduced. But another variant of the legend suggests the Emperor Shennong was testing medicinal properties of some herbs on himself where he accidentally took a poisonous herb, just when he was about to die a leaf was blown to his mouth. He chewed the leaf and was magically healed. This whole scenario was repeated 72 times before declaring tea as a strong antidote against poisonous herbs.
A similar Chinese legend states that the god of agriculture would chew the leaves, stems, and roots of various plants in the process discover medicinal herbs. And if he consumed a poisonous herb, he would chew tea leaves to counteract the poison. The origin of tea also has its mythological legend. It is believed that the founder of Chan Buddhism (Bodhidharma) accidentally fell asleep while meditating for nine years in front of a plain wall. Disgusted on his action, upon waking up he cut off his eyelids and threw them into the nearby bushes. Soon his eyelids took root and were grown into a tea plant. Though, some people believe that Gautama Buddha was in the place of Bodhidharma.
China has consumed and cultivated tea for more than 6000 years but consuming tea as a beverage comes as early as before the origin pyramids of Giza. The original tea plant is the same as the world knows it today, but its consumption varied from time to time. In its early phase, tea was not used as a beverage instead it was eaten as a vegetable or cooked with porridge. Tea was drunk as a beverage only before 1500 years ago when people discovered that tea if mixed with boiling water could turn into a soothing refreshing drink. With this new idea, the tea leaves were dried, heated, crushed, packed, and transported to different regions of the country. This new beverage was called ‘Motcha”. The Motcha or Mocha became so popular that it was included as the main drink in Chinese culture. Soon the drink reached Sichuan where people began boiling tea leaves for consumption into the water without the addition of other leaves or herbs, thereby using tea as a bitter yet stimulating drink, rather than as a medicinal concoction.
The Spread of Tea
In the 9th century during the Shang dynasty, the tea plant was brought to Japan by a Buddhist monk. The Japanese too loved the drink and inspired their religious classic celebration with tea. Tea use spread during the 6th century AD. During this time the Dutch traders brought tea to Europe. And from Portugal tea reached the royal houses of England. It was a time when England was expanding its colonial influence and so expands of tea. Everywhere England reached, tea gained more and more popularity. With such high demand, tea became expensive at least 10 times that of coffee.
During the 16th century, China had a monopoly on tea, and tea was one of the major goods in China’s export business. And this gave China an economically influential status. This tea business was so lucrative that soon countries began trading with China to bring tea back to their nation. In this race, Britain offered China silver coins in exchange for tea. But when this became too expensive the deal was struck down to opium. The opium trade in China soon destroyed the youth and triggered several health problems within the country.
In 1839, a Chinese ruler ordered his army to destroy the opium trading ships from Britain to halt the trade of the drug within the country. This triggered the first opium war between the two nations. After the British won the war, the East India Company decided to grow its own tea plant, thus they sent a botanist to China to steal the plant. The botanist disguised himself as a Chinese farmer and traveled through tea farms smuggling tea back in the Darjeeling of India. In 1773, the tea act was passed that grant the East Indian Company monopoly on tea sales in the American colonies. They also launched a tea industry by offering land in Assam to any European who agreed to cultivate tea for export. And from here tea was traded further and soon the whole world started growing their variant of tea.
The Importance of Tea in the 21st Century
Tea has also played a central role in shaping several historical incidents from the first opium war to Napoleonic wars and American Revolution. The revenue generated from tea export would finance several wars.
Tea is an important part of the lifestyle in the 21st century. From Asian countries to the western world, tea has its importance in the world’s culture. The benefits of tea include reducing the impact of stress; protect us from chronic diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, the ability to strengthen our immune system, fight cholesterol, and the naturally stimulating function of L-Theanine. Today each country has its own variant of tea like black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong tea, Pu-erh tea, purple tea, or herbal infusions. Today, there are as many flavors of tea as the cultures around the globe.