Tea has had a long history behind it, having being drunk from as far back as 1000BC. It is difficult to ascertain just when exactly it was discovered that dried leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant can be placed into boiling water to create a beverage.
Tea is considered to be one of the earliest Chinese medicines, and its origins have been traced to Southeast Asia.
Myths surrounding the history of tea
There are several myths surrounding the history of tea.
In one story, the Buddha is said to have discovered tea after a tea leaf fell into his cup of water as he sat in a garden meditating.
Another story cites Shennong - Emperor of China and founder of Chinese medicine - as the founder of tea. While on a journey, a few leaves fell into his hot water. Out of curiosity, Shennong tasted the mixture and liked the taste and restorative properties. Shennong eventually discovered that tea leaves were able to eliminate numerous poisons from the body.
The origin of tea
Most historians have traced the history of tea to have begun in China, where its usage has been hinted as far back at 1000BC. Tea however seems to have been mainly used for medicinal purposes.
The usage of tea drunken during social occasions has a shorter history, with the practice dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618AD - 907AD). There is speculation that tea had been drunk for pleasure earlier, but the only definitive records come from this era.
The first Europeans to have contact with tea appear to be Portuguese explorers visiting Japan in 1560. Russia discovered tea in 1618 after a Ming Emperor offered tea as a gift to Tsar Alexis.
Once discovered by the Europeans, tea was quickly imported to Europe where it soon became popular amongst the wealthy in France and the Netherlands. In 1650 tea spread to Britain.
The history of tea: exploitation, supply and demand
One of the major incidents to have occurred in the history of tea was the Boston Tea Party in 1773, where residents of Boston destroyed crates of British tea. The destruction was in protest against the high taxes on tea.
Tea became highly popular in Britain during the late 18th century as previously high taxes were removed, making tea accessible for most. The high demand for tea caused a large trade deficit between Britain and China. To rectify the trade deficit, the British began to sell opium to China.
Read about the many ways tea culture has evolved into the core fabric of modern society.