Tea - Origin and History

Origin and History

Tea plants are native to East and South Asia, and probably originated around the meeting points of the lands of northeast India, north Burma and southwest China.

Although there are tales of tea's first use as a beverage, no one is sure of its exact origins. The first recorded drinking of tea is in China, with the earliest records of tea consumption dating to the 10th century BC. It was already a common drink during the Qin Dynasty (third century BC) and became widely popular during the Tang Dynasty, when it was spread to Korea, Japan and possibly Vietnam, although when the Vietnamese began to drink tea is not recorded.

Tea was imported to Europe during the Portuguese expansion of the 16th century, at which time it was termed chá. In 1750, tea experts travelled from China to the Azores, and planted tea, along with jasmines and mallows, to give it aroma and distinction. Both green and black tea continue to grow in the islands, which are the main suppliers to continental Portugal. Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II, took the tea habit to Great Britain around 1660, but tea was not widely consumed in Britain until the 19th century. In Ireland, tea had become an everyday beverage for all levels of society by the late 19th century, but it was first consumed as a luxury item on special occasions, such as religious festivals, wakes, and domestic work gatherings such as quiltings.

The first European to successfully transplant tea to the Himalayas, Robert Fortune, was sent by the East India Company on a mission to China to bring the tea plant back to Great Britain. He began his journey in high secrecy as his mission occurred in the lull between the two Anglo-Chinese Wars or opium wars, and westerners were no in high regard at the time.

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