Cup of Tea

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Cup of Tea

Tea is an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to Asia. After water, it is the most widely consumed drink in the world.

There are many different types of tea; some teas, like Darjeeling and Chinese greens, have a cooling, slightly bitter, and astringent flavour, while others have vastly different profiles that include sweet, nutty, floral or grassy notes.

History

Chinese legends attribute the invention of tea to Shennong in 2737 BC, although evidence suggests that tea drinking may have been introduced from the southwest of China (Sichuan/Yunnan area). The earliest written records of tea come from China. The word tú appears in the Shijing and other ancient texts to signify a kind of “bitter vegetable”, and it is possible that it referred to a number of different plants such as sowthistle, chicory, or smartweed, as well as tea. In the Chronicles of Huayang, it was recorded that the Ba people in Sichuan presented tu to the Zhou king. The state of Ba and its neighbour Shu were later conquered by the Qin, and according to the 17th century scholar Gu Yanwu who wrote in Ri Zhi Lu: “It was after the Qin had taken Shu that they learned how to drink tea.” Another possible early reference to tea is found in a letter written by the Qin Dynasty general Liu Kun who requested that some “real tea” to be sent to him.

Tea was first introduced to Portuguese priests and merchants in China during the 16th century, at which time it was termed chá. The earliest European reference to tea, written as Chiai, came from Delle navigationi e viaggi written by a Venetian, Giambattista Ramusio, in 1545. The first recorded shipment of tea by a European nation was in 1607 when the Dutch East India Company moved a cargo of tea from Macao to Java, then two years later, the Dutch bought the first assignment of tea which was from Hirado in Japan to be shipped to Europe. Tea became a fashionable drink in The Hague in the Netherlands, and the Dutch introduced the drink to Germany, France and across the Atlantic to New Amsterdam (New York).

The first record of tea in English came from a letter written by Richard Wickham, who ran an East India Company office in Japan, writing to a merchant in Macao requesting “the best sort of chaw” in 1615. Peter Mundy, a traveller and merchant who came across tea in Fujian in 1637, wrote, “chaa — only water with a kind of herb boyled in it “. Tea was sold in a coffee house in London in 1657, Samuel Pepys tasted tea in 1660, and Catherine of Braganza took the tea-drinking habit to the British court when she married Charles II in 1662. Tea, however, was not widely consumed in Britain until the 18th century, and remained expensive until the latter part of that period. British drinkers preferred to add sugar and milk to black tea, and black tea overtook green tea in popularity in the 1720s. Tea smuggling during the 18th century led to the general public being able to afford and consume tea. The British government removed the tax on tea, thereby eliminating the smuggling trade by 1785. In Britain and Ireland, tea was initially consumed as a luxury item on special occasions, such as religious festivals, wakes, and domestic work gatherings. The price of tea in Europe fell steadily during the 19th century, especially after Indian tea began to arrive in large quantities; by the late 19th century tea had become an everyday beverage for all levels of society. The popularity of tea also informed a number of historical events – the Tea Act of 1773 provoked the Boston Tea Party that escalated into the American Revolution, and the need to address the issue of British trade deficit caused by the demand for Chinese tea led to a trade in opium that resulted in the Opium Wars.

Tea was introduced into India by the British in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on tea. In 1841, Arthur Campbell brought seeds of Chinese tea from the Kumaun region and experimented with planting tea in Darjeeling. The Alubari tea garden was opened in 1856 and Darjeeling tea began to be produced. In 1848, 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 Anglo-Chinese First Opium War (1839–1842) and Second Opium War (1856–1860). The Chinese tea plants he brought back were introduced to the Himalayas, though most did not survive. The British had discovered that a different variety of tea was endemic to Assam and the northeast region of India and that it was used by the local Singpho people, and these were then grown instead of the Chinese tea plant. Using the Chinese planting and cultivation techniques, the British launched a tea industry by offering land in Assam to any European who agreed to cultivate it for export. Tea was originally consumed only by anglicised Indians; however, it became widely popular in India in the 1950s because of a successful advertising campaign by the India Tea Board.