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The History of Tea

This article is about the history of tea.

History of Tea

Tea creation myths
In one story, Gautama Buddha is said to have discovered tea, when a falling tea leaf happened to land in his cup one day as he sat meditating in a garden.
Another story has it that Bodhidharma cut his eyelids off so that he wouldn't fall asleep while meditating, and the first tea plants sprang up from the ground where he flung the severed eyelids.
In yet another story Shennong (the legendary Emperor of China and founder of Chinese medicine) was on a journey, when a few leaves from a wild tea tree fell into his hot water. He tasted the mixture out of curiosity and liked its taste and its restorative properties. He then found that tea leaves eliminated numerous other poisons from the body. Because of this, tea is considered one of the earliest Chinese medicines.

Origin and dissemination of tea

It is not known whether the tea plant was indigenous to China, India or both, and historically the origin of tea as a medicinal herb useful for staying awake is unclear. The use of tea as a beverage drunk for pleasure on social occasions dates from the Tang Dynasty or earlier. For its later uses, see below. The Tang dynasty writer Lu Yu ??'s Cha Jing ?? is an early work on the subject.

The first Europeans to encounter tea were Portuguese explorers visiting Japan in 1560. Soon imported tea was introduced to Europe, where it quickly became popular among the wealthy in France and the Netherlands. English use of tea dates from about 1650 and is attributed to Catherine of Braganza (Portuguese princess, and queen consort of Charles II of England).

Industrial revolution

Tea may have played a part in the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. This revolution occurred in the middle to late 18th century in the area around Manchester and Liverpool in England, when the population exceeded a critical number. Usually, the lack of drinking water and insanitary conditions caused by very large cities produced a natural limit to the population for any conurbation. The antiseptic properties of large-scale tea drinking may have brought the sewerage conditions within controllable limits. Together with access to channelled water, this allowed the area to exceed previous population limits, and provide the necessary interworking between trades that sparked the revolution.

Exploitation, supply and demand

The high demand for tea in Britain caused a huge trade deficit with China. The British set up tea plantations in colonial India to provide their own supply. They also tried to balance the trade deficit by selling opium to the Chinese, which later led to the First Opium War in 18381842.

The Boston Tea Party was an act of uprising in which Boston residents destroyed crates of British tea in 1773, in protest against the tax on tea. Prior to the Boston Tea Party, residents of Britain's North American 13 colonies drank far more tea than coffee. In Britain, coffee was more popular. After the protests against the various taxes, Americans stopped drinking tea as an act of patriotism. Similarly, Britons slowed their consumption of coffee.

These days, contradicting tea economies do exist. Tea farmers in Japan, Taiwan and China often enjoy better incomes compared to farmers in black tea producing countries.

The History of Tea

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