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A Quick Cup of Tea History

We've talked a little bit about the colorful history of coffee and how it has evolved into one of the world’s most popular beverages. Now, it’s time to explore the story of tea.

vintage tea

Tea has been an integral part of cultures and economies all around the world for several years, and it’s worth exploring how this soothing beverage has found its way into almost every corner of the globe. So, prepare to share a cup of tea history with your fellow tea enthusiasts and delight in the glorious journey of one of our favorite drinks.

Our story begins many years ago around the year 2737 B.C. in ancient China. The Chinese Emperor Shen Nong, a skilled ruler and scientist, is said to have discovered tea accidentally. While boiling water in the garden, a leaf from a wild tree drifted into his pot. As the emperor sipped the water, he was surprised and delighted by the invigorating and refreshing flavor. The emperor then conducted research on the tea plant and found it to have medicinal properties.

Tea originally came from the southern province of Yunnan in China. It was initially used as a therapeutic drink, and later became an important part of the lives of the aristocracy. Between 618 A.D. and 907 A.D., tea became widely available across China, first in small pieces that were reduced to powder and mixed in boiling water, and later, mixed with salt and spices.

From 920 A.D. to 1279 A.D., tea evolved into a soup-like infusion. Finally, between 1368 A.D. and 1644 A.D., tea took on its current form—tea leaves infused with water.

In the early 9th century, a Buddhist monk who had been studying in China brought Chinese tea seeds to Japan, and it soon became an integral part of Japanese monastery life. By the early 1300s, tea had gained popularity throughout Japan.

In the 10th century, China began exporting tea to Europe. It was first exported to Holland in 1606, and by 1650, the Dutch brought tea to the colonists in America. Then in 1653, tea was brought to France and England where it became an instant hit and quickly replaced coffee as the beverage of choice.

Portuguese traders brought tea to Europe and, not long after, in 1638, it was introduced to Russia by a Russian ambassador who brought a pound of tea from China as a gift for the Tsar.

By the 19th century, China simply could not keep up with the growing demand for tea. Since tea had become such an important part of British culture, the British began introducing tea to other nations that came under their control such as India, Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka), and Argentina. Also in the 19th century, Americans were credited with the invention of iced tea and of teabags. 

During the 20th century, the influence of tea had reached all across the world, from Africa to South America and beyond. This was also influenced by the immigration of Asians to the west, and as Western travelers in the east brought tea back home. Today, tea is grown and produced in over 40 countries, and it plays an important role in the global economy.

For an unexpected selection of gourmet tea from all over the world, please visit us today at CoffeeAM!

Updated 6/11/2020

Originally posted 8/18/2016

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