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Evolution of Tea: A Brief History

Tea is one of the most consumed beverage throughout the world. Most are already acquainted with its benefits and flavours. The antioxidant effect, the soothing caffeine content, the various health advantages – tea fanatics have the necessary knowledge about it. Very few, however, know about the history of tea and how it evolved as centuries and decades passed by.


Japanese tea ceremony

Early history

Tea is said to be found in China in the year 2737 BC. By 722 BC – 221 BC, the Chinese started to brew the leaves, adding to the concoction other ingredients like ginger, tangerine peel, scallion, and cornel. It was only between 202 BC and 220 AD that tea evolved as a beverage in China, offered as a refreshing drink to officials and noble lords. Tea was used for its medicinal properties and not as a beverage initially.
 
In the early 9th Century, tea from China entered into Japan. A Japanese Buddhist monk, Saichō, is credited with introducing tea to the country. While studying in China, Saichō discovered tea and brought back seeds to grow at his monastery.
 
During the 13th Century, the production and preparation of tea have undergone changes in the Song Dynasty. From loose leaf tea, there was now a powdered form. Tea was processed in a completely different manner – tea leaves were roasted and then crumbled (rather than steamed). This is the origin of the modern-age loose leaf tea and brewed tea.



Tea Party

Middle age scenario

Dutch merchants are credited for the distribution of tea from the 17th Century onwards. The Dutch East India Company provided the first shipments of tea to Europe. In Russia, tea came in the form of a present. 64 kgs of tea were given as a gift to the Tsar Alexey Mikhaylovich.
 
At the same time, English witnessed the legitimate introduction of tea through the marriage of Charles II to Portugal’s Catherine of Braganzewas. She had introduced the concept of tea to the court. It was in 1657 that the first tea shop was opened, but nobody liked the idea of drinking tea back then. Tea was not formally accepted until their union.
 
Canada saw the introduction of tea in the 18th Century. Towards the end of the 18th Century, Robert Bruce of the British army came across indigenous tea bushes growing in Assam. This discovery led the British to experiment growing tea outside the boundaries of Assam. Darjeeling was also chosen and seeds were planted accordingly. This success had resulted in the development of tea estates in the area. This is important in the history of tea since it put an end to the reliance on Chinese grown-tea.


Modern Tea

Recent developments of tea

New developments started taking place across the globe. Tea started to flourish all over the world and many developments were taking place. New habits such as afternoon tea were in fashion (owing to the huge gap between lunch and dinner). During the end of the 19th century, tea drinking had become a part of the social life of people. The tea industry was flourishing in every part of the world.
 
The introduction of iced tea originated at a fair. A tea merchant (by the name of Richard Blechynden) was trying to entice visitors with free hot samples of tea. This was a disaster since the weather was hot. He asked for some ice and put that into the brewed tea. The sales shot up and the iced tea tradition was born.
 
Another simultaneous development was the invention of the tea bag. The original tea bags were handmade, hand stitched muslin or silk bags. It was intended as a container, not meant to be inserted directly into the water. Thomas Sullivan is credited to developing the modern-day concept of tea bags as early as 1908. Some of his customers misunderstood the use of the bag and put both the bag and tea leaves into the water. This accident made it a game changer.
 
The 19th Century also saw the introduction of bubble tea and boba juice in Taichung, Taiwan. These came to fashion when a woman started adding different fruit flavours to the tea she sold. Other stall owners heard about this uniqueness and followed her footsteps. Liu Han-Chieh started the tradition of bubble juice by adding juicy tapioca ‘pearls’ into fruit-flavoured tea.
 
From a small and insignificant leaf to influencing habits and nations, this traces a few developments that tea has undergone since its inception. This provides a clear and detailed outline of the events that shaped the quality and quantity of tea that we see today.


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