The Origin of Tea spans over thousands of years and multiple cultures. It is complex and infused with myths and facts. According to one ancient legend, in the year 2737 BC, Shennong – the father of Chinese medicine and agriculture, was resting beneath a tree drinking boiled water when a leaf from the tree drifted into the water and he accidentally discovered tea. Another story attributes the discovery of tea to the Japanese prince Bodhidharma.
It is difficult to find out the exact origin of tea, but the Chinese have been consuming tea for thousands of years. The mention of Tea was first appeared in the medical texts written by Hua Tuo. It is considered to be the first reliable source written around the 3rd century AD.
Around 400 AD the demand for tea started increasing steadily because of its taste and medicinal value. As a result, the farmers started looking for ways to cultivate rather than harvesting wild trees. It is believed that in 479 AD on the borders of Mongolia, the Turkish traders boycotted for tea.
Tea started spreading its wings to other areas other than China and newer methods were developed to cultivate and transport large quantities easily. From 618 AD – 906 AD a large number of traders (caravans) transported tea on the silk road trading with India, Russia and Turkey. Powdered form of Tea was produced so that it could be transported and traded conveniently.
In 1610, it was the Dutch traders who bought tea to Europe first with regular shipments from China and traded dried sage in exchange. Englishmen were late to join the tea trade. Interestingly, it was London's coffee houses that were responsible for introducing Tea to England. It was first sold at Garrway's Coffee House and then quickly spread to other parts of the country.
Around 1710, the Chinese merchants started milking the wealthy American colonists, and in 1733 AD it became a part of the iconic American history – A revolutionary war of independence sparked by the Boston Tea party creating a nation as we know it today.
The demand for Tea started rising in England, so they opened the opium trade to China in 1657 AD as Chinese were getting addicted to smoking opium mixed with tobacco. The profit from the demand in China was used to fund the Tea import. This led to the opium wars and in 1834 the Chinese emperor closed all ports to exports until the end of the first opium war.
In 1870 AD, to maintain the consistency level in Tea, Twinings of England started a process called Blending, which was to define the Tea industry in the future.
Tea bags were accidently discovered around 1905 in New York by Thomas Sullivan when he started sending loose tea in small silk bags. The consumers without knowing steeped the silk bags to make their brew and due to this convenience consumers started asking for ready made silk bags for preparing tea.
Instant tea was first commercially available in 1946 by Nestle, while Redi-Tea started the Instant Iced Tea in 1953 where tea was subjected to low pressure before being frozen discharged.
Tea in India:
If we look at the documented evidence the history of tea in India dates back to 750 BC. Local people used the wild native tea leaves, but it was the East India Company in 1835 AD, which experimented with Tea plantation in Assam, in the northeastern region, to end the Chinese monopoly and introduced tea in India.
Dr. Campbell, an employee of the East India Company planted seeds of Tea in his garden at Beechwood in Darjeeling and it proved so successful that they started the plantation in large scale and by 1856, it spread into many regions in Darjeeling.
In 1987, An Indian multinational non-alcoholic beverage company sets up a fully owned subsidiary in the USA, known as Tata Global Beverages Limited (formerly Tata Tea). Over the period, the production and consumption of tea spread like a wildfire in India. Since 1947 the tea production in India has been increased by 250% and the land used for plantation by 40%. By 2012, Tea became one of the largest exported commodity in India and was worth 10 Billion Dollars ($ 10bn).