History of Tea
 

The Mythical Origins of Tea

The story of tea is an ancient one. It can be traced back to ancient China over 5000 years ago. Myth and legend tell us that tea was discovered by the Chinese Emperor Shennong, in 2737 BC. It is said that when some water was being boiled for the Emperor, a few leaves from a near by camellia sinensis tree fly into the water. Seeing a change in colour, the curious Emperor took a sip of the brew and was delightfully surprised by its flavour. Originally, tea was thought of as a medicinal herb rather than a refreshment. The use of tea for medicinal purposes continued for many centuries, and tea was believed to treat a wide number of conditions, including poisoning. By the Tang Dynasty in China (618 AD), the idea of drinking tea for pleasure had been embraced and was said to be widespread.

Tea Spreads Around the World

Long before tea spread to Western Europe, it reached the shores of Japan and South East Asia. Tea was first brought to Japan by priests and envoys who were sent to China to learn about its culture. Tea became a drink of the royal classes of Japan when Emperor Saga encouraged the growth of tea plants and seeds were imported from China, and cultivation began in Japan.

In the early 17th century, the Dutch East India Company began trading in tea, initially importing tea from Japan and later from Sumatra and Java. Green tea was brought to Amsterdam and small amounts to England and France. During the course of the 17th century tea spread across Europe and to all its colonies around the world.

Ceylon Tea

Tea was introduced to Ceylon following the deadly disease ‘coffee rust’, which devastated the Islands coffee plantations. The colonial planters wanting to diversify their crop began to seriously think about growing tea. In 1867 on the Loolecondra Estate, James Taylor planted the first commercial tea bushes on 19 acres of land. James Taylor with experience of growing and making tea in India, experimented and produced a fine blend that sold for a high price at the London tea auction. From there on, as the saying goes, the rest was history. By early 1925 tea production was 100,000 tons from a mere 10Kg in 1872. With tea growing in popularity around the world, Ceylon also grew as the premier producer of tea. In 1961 Sri Lanka (as Ceylon was now known) produced a crop of 200,000 tons and in 1965 became the world’s largest export of tea. Currently Sri Lanka produced approximately 300,000 tons of tea a year.

 
 
 
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