Updated: May 24
The history of tea is steeped in legend, admired in politics, and consumed in abundance. Tea is not just any other beverage; it is an emotion for many people and is lauded for its numerous health benefits and calming properties. First enjoyed as early as 2727 BC China, tea is now cultivated in all corners of the world.
According to Chinese legend, people came to know about tea when the Emperor Shen Nong accidentally brewed tea when he was purifying water in the shelter of a tea tree. People say that when he was purifying water, several leaves blew into the boiling pot. The emperor was amazed by the superb taste, colour, and fragrance of the resulting brew. Soon, tea became a daily drink in Chinese culture.
Want to discover more of these exciting stories about tea? You are at the right place. In this post, we are going to tell you about the different tea-drinking traditions and cultures that made tea the most desired beverage in the world.
Let’s get started.
Tea Culture Around the World
You probably know that Ireland is among the world’s largest tea-consuming nations. The people in Ireland love tea so much so that they love to offer the beverage to anyone who comes to their home. The tea culture in Ireland is such that if you visit someone’s house and they offer you tea, you can casually say ‘no’ to them. But in reply, they will say that they were going to get themselves some anyway, so it is no trouble for them if they make a cup for you. In short, you will end up sipping tea and chatting.
On the contrary, in America, if you say ‘no’ to someone who offers you tea, then there is no going back. That individual will not pursue you like the Irish people and you will not get any damned tea. Thinking that the Irish culture is much better? Yes, I agree! Always want a cuppa!
In many cultures, tea is more than just a beverage. It is a ritual with both social and personal significance.
According to a legend, Prince Dharma (Bodi Dharma) from India vowed not to sleep during his nine-year mission as he embarked on a journey to China to preach Buddhism. During his third year, Prince Dharma started to crumble with tiredness. He was overtaken by fatigue. This is when he chewed a few fresh tea leaves. The tea leaves gave him the energy to stay awake for the rest six years.
In Japanese culture, the history of tea is told in a different manner. According to a Japanese legend, Prince Dharma fell asleep due to exhaustion. He woke up with so much disappointment that he tore off his eyelids and threw them on the ground. Japanese believe that the place where the eyelids of Bodi Dharma fell grew enchanted tea shrubs.
Tea was never considered a leisure drink. In China and India, tea was used for medicinal purposes only. Tea leaves were used for gift giving, imperial tribute taxes, ancestor worship, and courtship rituals. Till the 9thcentury, China was the sole exporter of tea. It was after the 9thcentury, the culture of drinking tea spread beyond China.
In Japan, tea was only served in the Buddhist temples to the ruling class, priests, and Buddhist monks. In the mid-1500s, priest Sen Rikyu codified the tea ceremonies in Japan. He is the founder of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Soon, tea became an alternative to alcohol and many shops and salons started offering tea as a ‘beverage.’ Eventually, something that was considered as a luxury became regarded as a necessity.
Tea in India
India is the second-largest exporter of tea in the world after China, accounting for 12% of total tea production in the world. In India, the majority of people consume tea at home. Thus, tea is a major part of Indian culture as well as the economy. However, it was only after the British intervened and started producing tea commercially that tea became a part of the Indian diet. The world-renowned Darjeeling tea, also known as “the champagne of teas” is a black tea cultivated in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is best taken with milk, sugar, and rich, savoury spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and cardamom. In India, it is commonly known as chai or ‘masala chai,’ which translates to spice tea.
Tea in Iran
The story of how tea was brought to Iran feels nothing short of a movie storyline. Before the 1900s, tea was non-existent in Iran. Kashef Al Saltaneh, an Iranian diplomat in 1895, decided to bring tea production in Iran. During that time, the British had strict control over tea production in India. For non-Europeans engaging in the tea trade, it was almost difficult since there were rigid rules against them. Kashef, who had studied in Paris, came to India posing as a French businessman. He learned the trade and started smuggling tea seeds and saplings to Iran. Today, he is known as the father of Iranian Tea.
Tea in the United Kingdom
In the 17th Century, the famous Dutch East India Company introduced tea to the western world when beverages like hot chocolate and coffee were considered drinks of the upper class. Soon, tea became an integral part of the British culture with ‘Tea Time’ becoming a much-awaited part of the day. Black tea is the most preferred by the Brits, and their popular brands include English Breakfast and Earl Grey.
Tea is revolutionary, and the histories and drinking rituals remind us of that. It is not just a beverage that quenches our thirst or keeps up warm. Lifestyle trends and health research have given tea new importance. Today, it is consumed as an ideal health beverage that has the power to prevent deadly diseases like cancer.