Updated: May 24
When tea was first produced commercially, no one would have imagined that it would become the most consumed beverage in the world after water. That’s the thing about tea. During the early days, tea was considered a medicinal plant with excellent antioxidant properties. Today, it is consumed globally on a large scale. China and India are the two most prominent nations with the highest tea production in the world.
Tea has played a crucial role in bringing nations together and enjoying a long-form friendship. This post is all about tea, and as an avid tea drinker, you would definitely want to know how just a mere beverage changed the whole world.
Keep reading on.
A brief history of tea
In the ancient times in the Mediterranean, when a civilisation realised the amazing benefits of olive and grapes, people from the other side of the world from a much different civilisation were making their own remarkable discovery. They realised that the leaves of a particular plant had flavourful and aromatic properties that became magic when mixed with water.
It was China, and that plant was Camellia Sinensis. According to historians, it was a fortuitous accident that led to the discovery of Camellia Sinensis leaves. As legend has it, the leaves of camellia turned normal water into a fragrant aromatic beverage so refreshing that it aided Buddhist monks to ward off fatigue and sleep during long hours of meditation. That beverage later went on to become the world’s most popular drink that we call tea. However, tea took centuries to escape China’s popularly closed society.
Apart from China, tea has also roots from India. The ancient Ayurvedic scriptures show that Camellia Sinensis leaves were already in use for centuries for medicinal purposes. Before the British rule in India, tea was merely a medicinal plant. It was the British who commercialised tea and popularised it as a beverage.
According to historians, Buddhist monks took camellia Sinensis seeds to Japan. Moreover, Chinese merchants started exporting tea leaves to Iran and Japan as early as the Han Dynasty in 206-220 CE. In the 1600s, finally, tea was introduced in Europe as the Dutch merchants started importing tea leaves to the Netherlands.
In the 1840s, it is said that an undercover British botanist posed as a tea merchant brought Chinese workers along with thousands of tea plants to British-ruled India. Those Chinese workers knew the art of growing tea plants.
Today, tea is the most consumed drink in the world, second to water. It is available in so many different flavours, with the likes of black tea, oolong tea, green tea, white tea, and yellow tea. All these different types are derived from the same Camellia Sinensis plant. What makes them different is how the tea leaves are processed once they are plucked from the plant.
How tea changed the world?
In numerous instances, tea has posed as a catalyst for historic change. While many people think of it as an absurd idea, in the book, A History of the World in 6 Glasses, the author has outlined the many reasons why it is true. The Boston Tea Party, was, of course, the most apparent historical change caused by tea. However, there was another instance that made the tea a respected beverage that it is today.
In 1662, when tea was just introduced to Great Britain, only the wealthier class was allowed to have it. The high tax was imposed on the export of tea to Britain. Therefore, lower class and middle-class families weren’t able to afford tea. The cost was way too high for them. As a result, they turned to alternative sources to acquire tea at lower rates. This led to tea smuggling, and over the years, it became a popular trade. Tea was a popular commodity, which is incredibly light and easy to store. Most of the tea smugglers were Chinese. Their actions resulted in the authentic tea merchants in Britain losing hundreds and thousands of that time’s money to black market tea trade. What doubled their pain was the fact that China already had made restrictions on the trade of opium. This led them to lose more money.
The British government wasn’t able to deal with so many restrictions and impositions. As a result, the British East India Company decided to educate themselves on how to make their own tea. It was a hardy process. The government decided to send spies to China so that they can learn the mysterious process of how to grow and harvest Camellia Sinensis plants. Since the Chinese weren’t welcoming foreigners to their land at that time, the spies entered through the ports of China dressed in Chinese attire. They had translators with them. While the spies successfully mastered the art of tea-producing, the long trek back to Great Britain was too harsh for the delicate leaves.
The British government was dealing with two miseries at that time. The first one was to provide protection to the spies as they snuck around the Chinese territories. The second one was to deal with their own population, which was highly addicted to opium. The consequence of this was Britain entering into a war with China. They were losing money. But thanks to the sale of tea, it kept the country from going bankrupt, and it also funded their military.
On the other hand, their tea spies turned to military spies in China that greatly helped Great Britain in fighting long enough to win the war against China. During the Second Opium War, it was France who formed a legion with Great Britain that forced China to open the ports and allow for more significant ventures for trade to export the classic tea to the upper classes of Europe.
Tea played a crucial role in the outcome of the Opium War between Britain and China. However, the country wasn’t too pleased when Camellia Sinensis made its appearance in the United States in Boston.
What do you think of it? Amazing, isn’t it? Today, tea has become more commercial than ever, with a variety of types produced commercially.