For All the Tea From China
A Brief History of Tea in China
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.