A (Somewhat) Brief History Of Tea

According to the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project, “Tea is among the world’s oldest and most revered beverages.   It is today’s most popular beverage in the world, next to water.”

Chinese legend states that the Chinese Emperor Shen Nong stumbled upon what we know now as tea in 2737 BCE.   The Emperor was a scholar, herbalist, creative scientist and patron of the arts.   Amongst his many beliefs was that drinking boiled water contributed to good health.   Subjects and servants alike had to boil their water before drinking it as a form of hygienic precaution, which probably served them well in that age, anyway.

One day, Emperor Nong was traveling abroad and decided to take a rest.   The servants obediently began to boil water for all to drink.   As the water simmered over the hot flames, dried leaves from a nearby camellia bush

The Famous Tea Plant

The popular tea company Teavana offers to fill some holes in tea’s exciting past.   “The history of tea is fascinating and offers great insight into the history of our world,” they state.   “Since tea was first discovered in China, it has traveled the world conquering the thirsts of virtually every country on the planet.”   By the time of the Western Zhou Dynasty, tea started being used in religious offerings.   During the Han Dynasty in 202 BCE to about 220 CE, the plants sadly became limited and became a drink of royalty.

During the Tang Dynasty, which was 618 to 907 CE, more plants were discovered and tea drinking became once again for both the wealthy and the poor.   The Chinese government even went as far to build tea shops so that people could enjoy this illustrious drink!

Japanese priests studying in China during the Tang Dynasty soon found this elixir and decided to bring it back home, thus helping tea to spread to other countries.   At first, the Japanese also kept tea strictly for the rich and for medicinal usage.   It was tied to Zen Buddhism as the monks would drink it to stay awake and meditate.   They even developed a whole tea ceremony to accompany this!

Because the Japanese emperor enjoyed the tea so much, he decided to get the tea seeds from China and plant tea of his own in Japan, making it readily available to the populace.

Finally, tea made it over to our favorite country of royals, England, during the 17th century when King Charles II married Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza.   I would like to argue that their greatest accomplishment was making tea the drink of royalty for England and making it a popular import of the famous East India Company, though I am sure that historians would beg to differ with me.   Afternoon tea and tea parties became popular for aristocratic societies.

And what is a beverage without a bit of a tainted history?   Taxes were high on tea, though it was regularly imported into England.   In response, smugglers would obtain and sell tea illegally to those who normally could not afford it!   The East India Company did not want to lose their profits and thus began exporting to America at a heavy tax.   Citizens rebelled with the famous Boston Tea Party.

Now, tea is enjoyed by both “royalty” and “laymen” alike, celebrated with the rich and the poor.   With its illustrious and (albeit) long history, tea is sure to celebrate a rich life and continue to flourish as a popular beverage.

Photo Credit:

Camellias-R-Us.com.   Camellias-R-Us: Sinensis.JPEG, 23 Nov 2011.   JPEG.


“Tea’s Wonderful History.”   Chinese Historical and Cultural Project.   Chinese Historical and Cultural Project, 11 June 2011.   Web.   20 Oct 2011.

“The History of Tea.”   Teavana.   Teavana, n.d.   Web.   20 Oct 2011.