For All the Tea From China

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A Brief History of Tea in China

Chinese Folklore

The origins of tea are a matter of wide debate, but popular legend is an interesting place to start. One path of belief is that tea was discovered in China by the mythical sage and Emperor Shennong around 2737 BCE. The Emperor had earlier decreed that all water must be boiled before drinking. He stumbled upon the brew accidentally when a few leaves fell into his cup of hot water from a burning twig from a nearby camellia tree.

While there are no official historical records existing that prove this incident to be true, Shennong became the patron saint of farming and agriculture. Stories say he would personally taste and test herbs on himself (as a Guinea pig) to help him understand their effects on humans.

Emperor/sage Shennong is said to have conducted tests on the tea and claimed it offered positive long-term effects on the human body. This highlighted the healing and medicinal properties of tea leaves and resulted in tea being regarded an essential herb in Chinese medicine.

Guo Xu (1456–c.1529) Description	 Shennong chewing a branch Dated 1503
Guo Xu (1456–c.1529) Description Shennong chewing a branch Dated 1503 | Source
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Shennong, the Farmer God, tasting herbs to discover their qualities Date	1914 Source	Li Ung Bing, Outline of Chinese History,
Shennong, the Farmer God, tasting herbs to discover their qualities Date 1914 Source Li Ung Bing, Outline of Chinese History, | Source

For All the Tea From China - a Poem

Merchants sailed the oceans,

Across the seven seas.

To every part of the known world

As they traded goods for tea.


"Boil all drinking water!"

Was sage Shennong's decree.

Some leaves fell in the water

From a burning nearby tree.


The water changed in colour

But the Emperor took a sip.

The pleasant taste surprised him

So from the tree more leaves he snipped.

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Tea found it's way to Europe

By traders Dutch and Portuguese.

And eventually to Britain,

Who embrace a cup of tea.


Sales of gin and ale reduced,

The effect was far from minor.

The smuggling trade became the norm

For all the tea from China.


Morocco's famed for its sweet tea,

Though to some Ceylon's is best.

Tea in Japan is quite revered,

But China's wins each test.

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Tea Smuggling and Clippers

Tea Smuggling to Britain

During the 1700s ships from Holland and other Scandinavian countries brought tea to the British coast, then anchored offshore while British smugglers (usually local fishermen) met them and unloaded the precious cargo into small vessels. The smugglers then snuck the tea inland through underground passages and overgrown tracks to secret hiding places. One of the most popular and successful hiding places proved to be the local parish church, the last place authorities would think to find illegal contraband.

Even smuggled tea was expensive, however, and to make it even more profitable the smugglers began to mix the tea with other substances, such as willow, liquorice, and even previously used tea leaves.

Tea Clippers

In the early 1800's ships carrying tea from Asia to Britain could take more than a year to deliver their precious cargo. When the East India Company was given a monopoly on the tea trade in 1832, they realised the need to speed up this long journey. The British closely followed the Americans in the design and use of "clippers", or streamlined, tall-masted vessels which could move at nearly 18 knots - almost as fast as a modern ocean liner.

This race for speed was considered so important that an annual competition for clippers was established, to race from the Canton River to the London Docks. The first ship to unload its cargo won the captain and crew a substantial reward.

The most famous of these clipper ships was the “Cutty Sark”, built in 1868. It only made the tea run eight times, but was a remarkable ship for its era. It now sits proudly on public exhibition at Greenwich Harbour.

The Cutty Sark was one of the last and fastest of the tea clippers
The Cutty Sark was one of the last and fastest of the tea clippers | Source

Enjoy Your Cuppa

So, the next time you sit down to enjoy a hot cup of tea perhaps you will spend a little time thinking about the rich history of this remarkable beverage that has become so popular around the world in so many different forms (black, green, chai, Earl Gray, iced tea etc. Companies like Tetleys, Lipton, Dillmah, T2 and many others also produce teas in combinations of almost any flavour you can imagine.

But whatever type of tea is your favourite, just sit back, relax and enjoy this wonderful brew.

Postscript

Much of much of the content (around half) has been removed due to duplication, or similarities to another hub or content found elsewhere on the Internet. With historical facts it is difficult to avoid that. For that reason I have deleted all information about the movement of tea between Asia and Europe as well as the introduction to the coffee house in Britain where tea would eventually take over from coffee, gin, and ale as the general population's (especially the middle and lower classes) favourite drink.

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Comments 14 comments

mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 11 days ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

What a fascinating history. You spun this tale with poetry and historical note. 'For all the tea in China' has become a cliché.


Dana Tate profile image

Dana Tate 11 days ago from LOS ANGELES

Recently I have become a lover of tea. I have always been a coffee drinker but now there are so many tasty flavors to choose from that I find myself drinking tea quite often.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 11 days ago from Queensland Australia Author

Glad you found this fascinating, Mike. I admit to trying to use that well-worn cliche as my title but it was already taken so had to change it slightly.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 11 days ago from Queensland Australia Author

Me too, Dana. I am still mainly a coffee love, but have been ill with the flu this last week and I find tea infused with lemon very soothing.


Missy Smith profile image

Missy Smith 10 days ago from Florida

This was a very interesting hub, John. I liked it a lot. My best friend in Amsterdam always tells me to lay off the coffee and instead drink tea. He says I will be better for it.

When I was young, I can remember my mother and myself playing scrabble while drinking hot tea. Back then there wasn't much to do on the weekends. I look upon that time as special. I used to get a thrill out of picking the flavor I wanted from the box of tea, and feeling all Victorian as I looked at all the pretty pictures on the front of the bag. I believe I liked chamomile the best, but cinnamon was also very good.

The poem is excellent as always, and again; I really enjoyed reading all of your history of tea. :)


Jodah profile image

Jodah 10 days ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thank you for always taking the time to read my hubs, Missy. Glad you found the brief history interesting and enjoyed the poem. Thanks for sharing about your times playing scrabble with your mother while drinking tea.

I have probably drunk more tea in the last two weeks than ever before...trying to sooth a sore throat and cough. I will always prefer coffee though.


DDE profile image

DDE 8 days ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Tea has been my favorite beverage. You so interestingly enlightened me on tea.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 8 days ago from Queensland Australia Author

So glad you found this short history of tea interesting, Devika. Thanks.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 6 days ago from Massachusetts, USA

What an interesting hub, John. The tea smuggling into Britain reminded me of how black-market, Dutch teas were funneled through the American colonies as an alternative to buying from the British East India Tea Co. They were cheaper and weren't as good as the legal teas, but were in protest to paying the tax and British rule. I also enjoyed reading about "Tea Clippers." Happy Sunday. :-)


Jodah profile image

Jodah 6 days ago from Queensland Australia Author

Hi Genna. Glad you found this hub interesting. It was originally twice this length but I had to delete a large portion that was classed as duplicate. You have a great week.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 38 hours ago from Central Florida

Interesting post, John. I didn't know Cutty Sark was a tea clipper. Today, it's a brand of scotch.

Love your poem!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 38 hours ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thank you for your comment Shauna. Interesting, I didn't know Cutty Sark was a brand of Scotch.


suraj punjabi profile image

suraj punjabi 2 hours ago from jakarta

Very nice poem and an interesting post on the history of tea. Being of an Indian descent, tea is a major part of our household. Thanks for sharing this informative hub!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 55 minutes ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thank you Suraj. Tea was an interesting topic to research too. Glad you enjoyed this.

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