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For All the Tea From China

Updated on November 29, 2016
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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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    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 8 months 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 8 months 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
      Author

      John Hansen 8 months ago from Queensland Australia

      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
      Author

      John Hansen 8 months ago from Queensland Australia

      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 7 months 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
      Author

      John Hansen 7 months ago from Queensland Australia

      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

      Devika Primić 7 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

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

    • Jodah profile image
      Author

      John Hansen 7 months ago from Queensland Australia

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

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 7 months 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
      Author

      John Hansen 7 months ago from Queensland Australia

      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

      Shauna L Bowling 7 months 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
      Author

      John Hansen 7 months ago from Queensland Australia

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

    • suraj punjabi profile image

      suraj punjabi 7 months 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
      Author

      John Hansen 7 months ago from Queensland Australia

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

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 7 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Interesting information about Tea and excellent poem as well!

      I thought I knew a lot about the origin of Tea but thanks to you for further enlightening me.

      Tea is the most popular and common beverage in India and we can not think of a day without Tea.

      As usual wonderful hub. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jodah profile image
      Author

      John Hansen 7 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for reading another of my articles, Chitrangada. I know how popular tea is in India and I am glad I could enlighten you a little more on its history.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 7 months ago from SW England

      Funny how times change; when I was little everyone in my family except me drank tea and coffee was rarely had at home as it was too expensive.

      I've never liked tea, nor milk, but a good strong, black coffee I learnt to enjoy in my late teens and never looked back. The coffee house was a place where we teenagers used to meet up and chat - our form of the pub before we were allowed to drink. The name 'Cardoma' springs to mind.

      This is an informative, fascinating account of the history of tea. Thanks for a good read, John.

      Ann

    • Jodah profile image
      Author

      John Hansen 7 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Ann, I rarely drink tea other than infused with lemon when I have a cold or flu, but my wife loves the stuff. I am a coffee man myself. Glad you found this history informative. Have a great week.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      John

      Great poem. Somewhere in my packing boxes I've got an oil painting done by an uncle (he was a local artist in the sixties and seventies) of the City Sark in 'full flight'. She could do the trip from India, round the Cape of good hope and to England in about seven weeks!

      By the way, she was gutted by fire a few years ago, but is considered so important to our heritage she's getting a complete rebuild!

      Great hub

      Lawrence

    • Jodah profile image
      Author

      John Hansen 7 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Lawrence, thank you for sharing about your uncle's painting of the Cutty Sark and also about it being gutted by fire and getting a rebuild. Yes it was the fastest of the tea clippers in its time.

    • Jodah profile image
      Author

      John Hansen 7 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Lawrence, thank you for sharing about your uncle's painting of the Cutty Sark and also about it being gutted by fire and getting a rebuild. Yes it was the fastest of the tea clippers in its time.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      John

      I checked the history of the ship afterwards and apparently after her time delivering tea she was used to transport wool from Australia and held the record for the fastest delivery from Australia for ten years.

      Merry Christmas by the way.

      Lawrence

    • Jodah profile image
      Author

      John Hansen 7 months ago from Queensland Australia

      That is an enthralling fact, Lawrence. I wasn't aware of that.

    • janshares profile image

      Janis Leslie Evans 6 months ago from Washington, DC

      As a tea addict and wanna-be connoisseur, I love this hub! Very informative history about the origins and shipment of my favorite drink. I always associated the Cutty Sark with alcohol! Love the images, too.

    • Jodah profile image
      Author

      John Hansen 6 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for reading this, Jan, and for the kind comment. I admit to not being an avid tea drinker (more a coffee lover) but my wife is addicted to tea and I find the history extremely interesting. Glad you did too.

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