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Tea 101: History of Tea

Posted by Rachel Schwartz on 12/4/2019

Tea is one of the oldest drinks in the world. Like coffee, its official can't easily be traced but evidence of the beverage can be found as early as 5,000-7,000 years ago. Since then, tea has quietly spread and is now one of the dominate drinks around the world.


2737 BCE (estimated): The exact origin of tea is unknown but the most popular legend has the drink being discovered by a Chinese man who was boiling water when a few leaves dropped into the pot. He then drank the water and enjoyed the taste. There are other claims, but this particular story is the most widely accepted. 

907-618 BCE: The Tang Dynasty began planting tea trees. Visiting Japanese monks brought seeds from these trees back to their monasteries in Japan, thus introducing tea to isolated areas of Japan.

722-221 BCE: The Chinese began brewing tea leaves and adding in other ingredients such as ginger and scallion. 

Early 9th century: The Chinese introduced tea to Tibet. Due to Tibet's rocky terrain, the tea had to be imported. At one point, tea was so popular that Tibetans used it as a form of currency. 

13th century: Although monks had been growing seedling tea trees since the first monks had brought back seeds several centuries earlier, tea and the planting of tea trees remained isolated to those monasteries until the 13th century. Due to how it was introduced to Japan via the monks, tea still retains a religious association today. 

1610: Tea began being imported by Portugal and the Netherlands. 

1618: The Tsar of Russia is presented with a gift of tea by the Chinese. The beverage was well-liked and camels were used to import hundred of pounds of tea to Russia each year until 1903 when the camels were replaced by the Trans-Siberian Railway.

1662: King Charles II married Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, who introduced tea to the British. From there, its popularity soared, and the beverage became a status symbol in Britain because it was an imported luxury. 

Early 1700s: The British East India Co. was established and became a dominate power by the early 1700s. The company quickly gained the monopoly on tea from China. 

Late 1700s: By the late 1700s, tea has become the largest and most valuable commodity exported by Britain. Because of this, the British instituted a tea tax in America due to its popularity. When that tax spiked to 11%, more than doubling the tea's original cost, the Americans rebelled with the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution soon followed. 

1833: British Parliament declared the trade routes open for competition, thus ending the British East India Co.'s monopoly and position and as a dominate force. 

1840s: Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford, is credited with inventing "Afternoon Tea." Wanting a snack between breakfast and dinner, she began having tea with cakes or sandwiches in the afternoon and invited friends to join her. 

19th century: "High Tea" was created and consists of a full meal served with tea at around 6pm. It was originally described as a "man's meal" while afternoon tea was considered a lady's social function.   

1903: The earliest patents for tea bags can be traced to 1903. 

1904: A merchant trying to give out tea samples at the 1904 World' Fair in St. Louis, Missouri is credited with inventing iced tea. Because of the hot weather, passersby weren't interested in trying hot tea, so the merchant borrowed ice from a neighbor vendor and added it to the samples to cool the tea down.

1908: A merchant from New York is credited with creating the first commercial tea bag. He sent samples of his teas in handmade silk bags to cafes and restaurants for them to try and discovered that they were brewing the tea still in the bags to save time. 

Today: Tea is believed to be the most popular drink besides water. 

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