Since we humans have been drinking tea for centuries now, the history of tea is somewhat cloudy. But there are some things all tea historians have in common, if not quite agree on.
An Agreeable History of Tea
Most anyone will tell you that the person who discovered tea as a beverage was the emperor of China, Shen Nong, who first drank tea in 2737 B.C.E. It was an accidental discovery, as all the best ones are, when a leaf from a nearby tea tree floated into his cup of hot water. Always interested in herbalism, he allowed the leaf to steep in the hot water. He liked it, and started spreading the word about tea’s lovely flavor and health benefits.
Tea eventually became one of the first items traded out of China and into other countries, even developing into a currency. Tea leaves were pressed into brick shapes and scored along the top. Then pieces of the tea brick could be broken off to make change. The Dutch were the first to engage in the tea trade with China, which is how tea came to be loved in Europe. When Europeans started traveling to other lands they took their tea with them, making tea lovers the world over.
Here’s most of the same info in video format:
And for you book-lovers out there, this is a great book that really details the history of tea.
Tea as a Social Event
Another commonly agreed upon point in the history of tea settles on Anna, Duchess of Bedford. In the mid-1840’s the evening meal was served late in the day, around 8:00 p.m. Feeling the need for more sustenance earlier in the day, Anna had her servants bring her tea, cakes, sandwiches, and cookies around 4:00. As she shared this event with others, more and more people started having an afternoon tea snack/meal and inviting their friends and family.
Now we have tea as a social event all over the world: from afternoon tea in England, to teahouses in Asia, to yerba mate in South America, to all day pick-me-ups in the United States.
The Current State of Tea
Today, tea is the second most popular beverage in the world with water as the reigning champion. Black tea is the favorite, with green tea coming in at a close second. Herbals and rooibos (which aren’t true teas), oolongs, whites, and puers trail behind, with rare red and yellow teas at the other end of the popularity spectrum.
Tea as a beverage isn’t going anywhere, that’s for sure. More and more of us fall head over heels in love with it every day, and those of us who have long been her fans fall more deeply in love with each sip.