Many legends depict the discovery of tea, both poetic and bloody. In China it is told that a leaf fell into Emperor Shen Shung’s royal water and he became a tea enthusiast immediately. In India the fakir Dharma tried to immerse himself completely in his Buddhist beliefs and stay awake for seven years. Shortly before failing in his endeavour, he collapsed under a bush and chewed on its leaves to keep himself awake and thereby discovered the effect of tea. The Japanese monk Daruma had to fight his need for sleep during his meditation. Frustrated he ripped out his eyelids and two tea bushes grew from them and he was cured from his fatigue forever.
China’s pioneering role
Just as vague as these legends is the true story about the origins of tea. The first tangible milestone can be found in China: the classic book of tea by Lu Yu from 764 BC. Japan’s history of tea starts much later, around 800 AD when monks tried to smuggle and grow tea seeds. India, today one of the biggest players in tea cultivation, started as late as 1800 with the growing of tea, driven by England. One thing can be said for certain and that is that China had tea culture 3000 years before the rest of the world even had the slightest idea of it. What started as a remedy in China turned into indulgence at around 400 BC. In Japan tea was a privilege at first, reserved only for the Imperial court. Only with the establishment of Zen Buddhism in Japan, tea found its way into the general public.
From „Tea Time“ to modern industry
Europe discovered tea as late as 1600, first as a remedy and luxury for the upper class. An important milestone is the establishment of royal tea time thanks to the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza after her wedding to King Carl II. It is the veritable birth of Tea Time and first step towards tea becoming the national beverage of England. Colonialisation opened the doors for tea worldwide, but not without a few bumps in the road (e.g. the Boston Tea Party). Modern tea industry developed at around 1800 with the expansion of cultivation in India. Until then only green tea was available, since the Chinese were so proud of it, but the british wish for a stronger flavour kicked off the production of black tea. With the beginning of tea cultivation in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1867 and Africa and Indonesia in 1878 tea became available to the world.
Until today tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world, with countless blends and multiple effects – from stimulating to calming to healing.