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The history of tea

12 December 2019 09:01

One lump or two?

One lump or two?

With International Tea Day falling on the 15th December, we wondered where the story of the nation's favourite drink started...

A legendary beginning (2737 BC - )

While we've been enjoying cuppas in Britain for over 300 years, the story of tea begins in China, at almost 3000 years BC. According to legend, a stray leaf blew into a boiling cauldron of hot water prepared for the emperor Shen Nung. The curious royal found the infusion refreshing and, as a renowned herbalist, tested its healing properties against poisonous herbs finding tea to work as the perfect antidote.

Japan gets a taste for tea (805 AD - )

By the time of the Tang dynasty (618-907) tea had established itself as the national drink of China. A book dedicated to the hot drink, the Ch'a Ching, or Tea Classic, was written. Japanese Buddhist scholars made the pilgrimage to their neighbours, before bringing the first tea seeds back with them in 805. Tea soon became a vital part of Japanese culture with the tea ceremony or Way of Tea, a preparation and presentation of matcha, green powdered tea.

Tea sets sail for Europe (1557 - )

In 1557, Portugal established a trading port in Macau, China, and the drink known as 'cha' soon grew in popularity among the Portuguese traders and missionaries. The Dutch, however, were the first to monetise the drink, with the first commercial shipment of tea from China to Holland being made in 1606. This expensive import soon became a fashionable drink among the wealthy.

Brits join the tea party (1662 - )

Charles II's marriage to Portuguese royal Catherine of Braganza in 1662, saw tea reach the drawing rooms of England. The East India Company placed heavy taxes on the foreign plant and a cup of Rosy Lee remained the preserve of the upper classes. Tea rooms grew in popularity in the 1800s, viewed as more refined and ladylike than coffee houses. But it wasn't until 1840 that the seventh Duchess of Bedford is said to have invented afternoon tea.

Yanked from British control (1773 - )

The Tea Act, the British Parliament's tax on tea, spawned the Boston Tea Party in 1773: rioters protested about the delivery of three ships of tea and helped trigger the American War of Independence. Much later – 1904 – it was a New York merchant who invented the tea bag as we know it when he found his customers preferred infusing hot water through the silk tea bags the loose leaves were delivered in.

Brewing a break? Don't forget to get covered!

Remember your travel insurance before you try some international cha. At World First we provide worldwide travel insurance, so you can be covered as you sit back and sip.