The Origin of Tea
The origin of tea begins in China and not Britain as many have been made to believe. According to legend, in 2737 BC, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung, a renowned herbalist, was sitting beneath a Camellia Sinensis tree while his servant boiled drinking water. Suddenly some leaves from the tree blew into the water accidentally and the emperor and his servants decided to try the infusion afterwards. The resulting drink is what we now call tea.

Containers for tea have been found in tombs dating from the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) but it was under the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD), that tea became firmly established as the national drink of China. It became such a favourite that during the late eighth century a writer called Lu Yu wrote the first book entirely about tea known as the Ch'a Ching, or Tea Classic.

It was shortly after this that tea was first introduced to Japan, by Japanese Buddhist monks who had travelled to China to study. Tea drinking has become a vital part of Japanese culture, as seen in the development of the Tea Ceremony, which may be rooted in the rituals.

Drinking of tea certainly became established in China many centuries before it had even been heard of in the Western World.

The growth of tea in Europe
Tea was popularized in the 16th Century a drink among Europeans. These were mostly Portuguese traders and missionaries who were living in the East. Although some of these individuals brought back samples of tea to their native country, it was the Dutch, who in the last years of the sixteenth century ship the first consignment of tea to Holland from their trading post on the island of Java.

Consumption of tea soon became fashionable among the Dutch and from there spread to other parts of Western Europe but remained a drink for the wealthy due to its high cost.

Modern day tea drinking
But as the tea auction declined, an essential element of modern tea-drinking took off - the tea bag. Tea bags were invented in America in the early twentieth century, but sales only really took off in Britain in the 1970s.

Nowadays it would be hard for many tea-drinkers to imagine life without them. Such is the British enthusiasm for tea that even after the dismantling of the Empire, British companies continue to play a leading role in the world's tea trade and British brands dominate the world market. With recent scientific research indicating that tea drinking may have direct health benefits, it is assured that for centuries to come there will be a place in every life for a nice cup of tea.



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