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All About Tea: The History of Tea and Other Fun Facts

Updated on February 4, 2013
Life is good when you pause for a cup of tea.
Life is good when you pause for a cup of tea. | Source

Why I wrote about the history of tea:

Ah, tea...that magical elixir that helps me unwind and whispers, "all's right with the world." What would I do without it? Tea has been a part of my family history since I was five and would sneak sips from my grandmother's cup. Later, it was a right of passage learning to drink it the way my boyfriend did: plain, no milk, no sugar, just a touch of honey.

My fascination with the origins of tea was fairly recent. Previously, I had not given it much thought. But, taking an online writing course seven years ago pushed the creative envelope into all sorts of directions and led to a one way door into the world of curiosity.

This hub is in response to two of the questions I've had: "Where did tea begin and how did it arrive in America?"

A Brief History of Tea

2737 BC-China: The Emperor of China, Shen Nong, sat discovers ‘tea’ when the wind blew some leaves into his cup and instead of discarding it he sipped it and found it rejuvenating and refreshing.

59 BC-China: Wang Bao writes the first book about tea preparation called, A Contract with a Servant.

520 AD-India: Bodhidharma, the monk who was the founder of Zen Buddhism, travelled to China. Legend states he chewed on leaves of a tree to help him stay awake while meditating and discovered tea leaves.

780 AD-China-Lu Yu, scholar and researcher of tea for 20 years writes a book called, Cha Jing, (also known as Cha Ching), which details all aspects of tea from planting to preparation.

805 AD-Japan: Zen priest, Saicho, travels to China and returns with tea seeds offering them to the emperor.

900 AD-Japan: Eisai, a Zen priest and considered to be the ‘Father of Tea’ in Japan, brought back tea seeds from China to Kyoto and offered them to priests.

1211-Japan: Eisai writes, How to stay healthy by drinking tea. In 1214 he sent a copy to the Shogun Minamoto because of his heavy drinking. Tea is soon part of the samurai warriors’ daily routine.

1400’s-Japan: the Japanese Tea Ceremony, Chanoyu, develops as part of the Japanese spiritual path. The four areas of focus, incorporated through tea drinking and daily life, are: harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.

1560-Portugal: Jesuit missionary, Father Jasper de Cruz first encounters tea during his religious work in China.

1600’s-Netherlands: the Dutch have embarked on trade with Portugal and tea is initially used solely by the wealthy until it saturates the market and the common man can also consume it. The first tea is served in a public restaurant.

1650-America: Peter Stuyvesant, a Dutch settler, brought the first tea to the colony: New Amsterdam.

1652-England is introduced to tea and by 1669 it becomes the most important trade commodity from China. Initially, it is too expensive for anyone but the aristocrats, but all classes soon enjoy it.

1717-London: Thomas Twining opens the first teashop.

1800’s-England: Anna, Duchess of Bedford, introduces the ‘afternoon tea’. This is the ‘meal’ between lunch and dinner to hold one over. It becomes very popular and tea gardens eventually open as a place of social gathering.

1876-Scotland: Thomas Lipton opens the first teashop in Glasgow.

1904-America: Richard Blechynden creates ‘iced tea’ at America’s first World Fair, to counter the scorching weather. This soon becomes a popular summer beverage.

1908-America: Thomas Sullivan of New York creates the first tea bag from muslin.

2009 statistics: most tea consumed per person

United Arab Emirates
6.24 kg
4.34 kg
3.22 kg
3.22 kg
2.74 kg

Worldwide, who grows, and who drinks, the most tea?

Tea is grown and processed in many countries around the world. The four leading countries of tea production are China, India, Kenya, and Sri Lanka. Tea consumption in the world is also interesting to look at. Among a total of 155 countries studied, the number one tea consumer is the United Arab Emirates, followed by Morocco and third, Ireland. The United Kingdom is number seven, and the U.S. is 69th.

Who grows the most tea in the world:

show route and directions
A markerChina -
get directions

B markerIndia -
get directions

C markerKenya -
get directions

D markerSri Lanka -
Sri Lanka
get directions

Unwind with a cup of tea in the afternoon

Relax with a cup of tea
Relax with a cup of tea | Source

Types of tea and what affects the flavor:

The question often arises, “What is the difference between the types of tea?” It is easy to understand the confusion because there are so many types available and a consumer may wonder if it is all a marketing strategy…like promoting the ‘bigger is better’ motto.

However, let me assure you that there is a real difference between black, green, oolong, and white tea. The differences are in way of processing and time of harvesting. First, tea leaves come from the same plant: the Camellia sinensis. Herbal teas are not included here because they are not really from tea leaves, but herb mixtures of flowers and spices.

White is the most tender. The tea leaves are picked as new leaves and buds, steamed to stop the oxidation process and then dried. Because of the lack of chlorophyll in the leaves they are silvery white. They are the least mature of the tea leaves that are offered.

Black tea leaves are oxidized or fermented and then dried-the the longer the processing the darker the leaves. Darjeeling is an unblended black tea. English Breakfast and Earl Grey are blended black tea.

Green tea leaves are steamed and scalded and then rolled and dried. Green tea is touted as having the most health benefits because they have a minimum of oxidation, which maintains the flavonoid content.

Yellow tea is processed much the same way as green tea; however, the drying phase is much slower. The leaves are actually left to dry in a damp state where they wither and yellow. This creates a milder flavor and removes the ‘grassy’ taste that green tea has.

Oolong tea has the least amount of oxidation time of black tea before it is dried. It is allowed to wither before it is curled and twisted.

In addition to the harvesting and oxidation process that affects the flavor of tea leaves, weather and soil conditions will also influence the final outcome.

How to make a great cup of tea

What type of tea you are drinking will matter in the process of steeping your tea. Here are some steps to keep in mind:

1. Use a clean tea pot and warm the inside with hot water before pouring the boiling water in.

2. Boil the water to the tea's proper temperature.

3. Pour the enough water for how many cups you are making, plus one additional cup.

4. Add the number of tea bags according to how many cups you are making, plus one extra.

5. Allow the tea to steep for the number of minutes recommended for that variety.

6. Pour the tea into the cups.

7. Offer milk or cream and sugar, honey or lemon.

Time Table for Steeping

Type of Tea
Minutes to Steep
65-70 degrees C
1-2 minutes
70-75 C
1-2 minutes
75-80 C
1-2 minutes
90-100 C
2-3 minutes
100 C
2-3 minutes

From Clipper Tea: How to make a perfect cup of tea:

Now that you've finished reading:

Did you learn anything new about tea?

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    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 2 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Matt, I appreciate your well wishes. We've been having stormy weather here lately, how is it on the west coast? Still missing CA...

      Enjoy your week.

    • Matt Easterbrook5 profile image

      Matthew A Easterbrook 2 years ago from Oregon

      Denise have a wonderful week and up coming weekend. :)

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 2 years ago from North Carolina

      (Smile) Thanks Matt. Enjoy your week.

    • Matt Easterbrook5 profile image

      Matthew A Easterbrook 2 years ago from Oregon

      Glad you are back Denise.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 2 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Matt, I fell out of the zone here for awhile. Thank you for your comment. :)

    • Matt Easterbrook5 profile image

      Matthew A Easterbrook 2 years ago from Oregon

      You will enjoy it all in SanFrancisco. I live about 6 hours from S.F. now but I visited about a month ago. You are right great cuisine, art, theatre et. I am sure the Tea Plantation will not be disappointing.

      Have a great day and enjoy the amazing Sheryl Crow.


    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 2 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks, Matt. I see you are from San Francisco. I used to live in the East Bay area and worked in Berkeley. Crazy, but good energy there. I miss the wonderful California cuisine.

      I'm actually taking a road trip this May to the Tea Plantation I researched. I'm looking forward to seeing, firsthand, what I've written about. In addition, Sheryl Crow is scheduled there for an outdoor concert.

    • Matt Easterbrook5 profile image

      Matthew A Easterbrook 2 years ago from Oregon

      I also enjoy drinking tea. My favorite is mint tea. Thanks for taking the time to research the history of tea etc. and keep up the great hub writing.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks, mr-veg I appreciate your link, but don't sell yourself short. I'll be sure to read it.

      Happy tea sipping, suzette. I drank two cups today, adding a caramel cream as a treat. It's raining (4th day in a row) and gloomy.

      Hi Heidi- I usually don't drink starbucks tea-I just order a lime cooler, lol But, as for coffee...I can relate. My experience with coffee drinking was ZERO until I worked a midnight shift. I could NOT stay awake and had a one hour drive home. A couple of times in the wrong lane with an oncoming 18 wheeler revealed the need to find a way to drink it. Thank you for reading this one.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

      I am a Starbucks addict... but not for the coffee, for the tea! Love their green tea. And I also like herb teas at home. Like you, I've been drinking tea since I was really little. When I first tried coffee, I thought it was nasty and have never picked up the habit. Very interesting hub!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      Denise: I love my coffee, but I do drink tea and have a good cup of tea every once in a while. I do have a teapot and special tea mugs and all the strainers for making loose tea as well as teabags. I should probably drink it more for the health benefits. I didn't realize the unusual places that most of our tea comes from. Kenya in Africa is a surprise to me as a large place that grows tea leaves. China, of course, is a no-brainer. LOL Thank you for sharing your knowledge of the tea world with us and I enjoyed reading this. Think I'll have a cup of tea now! Voted up and shared!

    • mr-veg profile image

      mr-veg 4 years ago from Colorado United States

      Nice Interesting facts Denise. Fore sure I would win a Tea Quiz show after reading your article :)

      Thanks for the learning fun.. Also I have a hub on tea making, so I went ahead and took the privilege to add your star studded hub as a link to mine :) I kind of did myself a favor by adding your hub to mine :D ...

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi DDE-thank you for reading so many of my hubs! I appreciate it. I love tea, and am a tea drinker. I would love to own a tea store or cafe, so I have a huge interest in the subject. Thanks for the vote up.

      Are you a tea drinker?

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I had to click on this hub this information is unique and so well researched about tea and the incredible facts. voted up.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Hello chef-de-jour, thanks for stopping by. Yes, the humble leaf. I've been enjoying some new infusions, not fresh-boxed, but delicious, as well as a favorite friend: Red Rose. Cheers to you and dunking, too!

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 4 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Wonderful hub with lots of facts about the humble leaf. As an avid tea slurper I have to confess I've just finished my umpteenth cup of the day - Yorkshire Gold, a great blend, rich and tasty, and now have to wait for over 12 hours before my next infusion.

      Must buy more biscuits - cookies - for dunking!

      Votes and share.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Vespa-thanks for your feedback. I wrote my first tea article for a writing class assignment back in 2004 and the second one was in 2006. I guess tea is one of those things that interests me. If you look at my hub about having a tea posy party you'll see my grandkids and I enjoying our tea together. :)

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 5 years ago from Peru, South America

      My goodness, you do know a lot about tea! I'd never heard of yellow tea and I don't think I've ever had a good-quality white tea. I just recently learned about the boiling temperatures when I was introduced to Teavana. I really love their teas and even though they're expensive, they go a long way. I especially like their samurai chai tea. Americans are known the world over as coffee drinkers, but I'd like to move more toward tea drinking. I can't believe we're 69 on the list of countries that drink/produce tea! Your history of tea was also interesting. Thanks so much! I love your writing.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Great-I'll add your hub to mine. I love tea and actually wrote my first 'tea' article while living in California. Like you, I was so surprised about the UK, but the US didn't surprise me at all. After never drinking coffee I finally broke down and started drinking it last year when I worked midnight shift to stay awake.

    • watergeek profile image

      watergeek 5 years ago from Pasadena CA

      Cool hub! I'm going to add a link to it on my teapot hub. I loved it that England was so far down the list of tea drinkers . . . and America was way down. We drink coffee, hey? ;-)

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Hello maheshpatwal Yes, it has been awhile since we have connected. You honor me with a visit. I'm so glad that you enjoyed this hub and discovered something new. I am sure the quality of the tea grown in India is superb; I would enjoy sharing a cup with you. Be well, my friend.

    • maheshpatwal profile image

      maheshpatwal 5 years ago from MUMBAI

      Denise.. hope you are doing well, its been a long since last talked to you. Very detailed research is done by you it seems from your hub. I was under the impression that from india tea traveled to china and other parts of the world and we are the number one producer of tea. You proved me wrong....But i can bet you that we still produce the best quality tea in the world. Great hub with very detailed information about the history of tea cultivation and consumption.... voting it up...

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Absolutely-in fact, that is what is showing in the very first photo at the top. I can relate to your daughter's desires for a tea shop. I've fantasized about this very thing, but it has to be the right location.

      I've written another hub that shows more detailed photos about this tea pot and 'flowering tea'. It's called: A teaposy tea party Here is a link to it: Be sure to take a peek there because I put some product info on it.

      Thanks for your question and by all means do get her one for Christmas-she will be thrilled!

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 5 years ago

      Hi Denise

      I have a question. Have you tried the flowering teas that bloom in the teapot? The name escapes me right now. I have a daughter who is a tea fanatic and has wanted to open a tea shop since she was in the 5th grade (she is now 23 years old). I think this would be a lovely Christmas gift. I would love your opinion. :-)

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Docmo-Tea is such an enjoyable elixir for sure! Thanks for stopping by for a read. I appreciate your feedback and votes. :)

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 5 years ago from UK

      As a confirmed tree drinker who loves a cuppa darjeeling this hub is like the elixir itself. Great bits of history and a wonderful summary of tea drinking. Thank you! voted up/awesome.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Martie-I am aware of that wonderful Rooibos tea from another hubber from South Africa. Thanks for the link. :) I appreciate the votes.

      Frank-I'm sure you can-and raise a pinky while doing it, too. :) Thanks, as always, for reading (and tolerating the endless tea hubs, haha).

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 5 years ago from Shelton

      Im not a tea toker..drinker whatevar but I bet now after reading this hub I can stand in a stuffy room with the best of them..yeah?

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 5 years ago from South Africa

      Interesting and informative hub about tea and its origin. Excellent, Denise!

      Exclusively in South Africa we have Rooibos Tea (Red Bush Tea) - absolutely delicious - my favorite!

      Voted up and 'delicious'!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Ruby-thank you for reading (yet another) hub about tea. :) Glad you enjoyed the history.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I am a daily tea drinker. I only drink green tea since it's supposed to be better for you. I knew very little about the origin of tea, so thank you for the info..Well done Denise..

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Randi-I know what you mean. I really do like challenging myself. I also enjoy meeting folks like you and am quite surprised by what you said. Wonder why? Well, at least you tried to reach out. Maybe its a particular thing she's going through. In the meantime, keep pumping out those awesome hubs!

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      I enjoyed the challenge as it got me out of my box a little and especially because I met you and a couple of other hubbers and have enjoyed the conversations and support. It's funny, the person who started the hub Mom Kat just dropped off the radar. I tried to contact her once during the challenge but she wasn't too friemndly so I let it go.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks! Except its really all rolled into one. The deadline for the niche hubs has fallen off as of the 14th, however, I'm just making the remainder part of the 30 day challenge. I didn't think I would like the niche hubs but I really see an advantage with them. :)

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      you are doing great! And you are doing 2 challenges at once! Good for you!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Randi-thanks! I really appreciate you noticing. I actually had this started with my other hub and it was getting so very long I knew I had to make a decision about cutting something out. It turned out I had enough for two hubs with a little more added to this one. It was interesting to research. I'm still behind, but its been much more enjoyable doing hubs this time around. :)

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      What a great sequel! You integrated it so seamlessly, that I had to check and make sure! Being a tea lover, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was so full of interesring info and facts! Thank you!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Kris-I love tea, too...but, I think you guessed that, haha Thanks for reading. :)

      Hi Angelo-thanks! I try to make it interesting. Are you a tea lover?

      Carter-my thoughts exactly! I was so surprised. And, poor little U.S. LOL Well, at least we weren't in last place. Thanks for the votes

      mperrotett-thanks. Coming from a 'real tea lover' I'm glad you learned something new from my hub. I have another tea hub also.

      Hi Susan-thanks for stopping by. I'm so glad you enjoyed learning something here. :)

      Hi mecheshier-thanks for your feedback. I like to try a combination of things in the hubs, so I'm glad to know you enjoyed it. :) Thanks for the votes.

      Hello Pamela-thanks for stopping by. It appears that there are a large numbers of writers who are tea drinkers. Thanks for the votes.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

      I drink tea daily and enjoy it fully. This is a very interesting history of tea and there are many interesting facts. Voted up and interesting.

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 5 years ago

      What a fabulous Hub. I love tea and history. A great combo. Your list of types of teas is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing. Voted up for useful and interesting.

    • sholland10 profile image

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Denise, I love your timeline of the history of tea. That the tea leaves blew into a cup is fascinating to me - almost like it was fated that we know about tea.

      I also like the breakdown of types of teas. I have been a big believer in green tea and its benefits, but I have hesitated when buying other types of teas - not knowing what benefits they had.

      Great information and Great Hub!! :-)

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 5 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      I'm a real tea lover - I have at least one cup every day. I really enjoyed this hub - very informative and interesting. I didn't realize there were so many different varieties of tea.

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Hi Denise...great thorough hub... loved learning about the history of Tea and so interesting about the country with the highest tea consumption...who would have thought that the UK would be so low down the list? Good job...Lot's of votes...cheers

    • Angelo52 profile image

      Angelo52 5 years ago from Central Florida

      Liked the mix of historical information on tea and the practical information on how to make tea for drinking. Lots of good information for the tea lover.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      I love tea! Thanks sharing for the history behind it:)