a history of tea


A history of tea is very old, we have made an attempt to explain the history of tea as much as possible.

lemon grass
Lemongrass and ginger tea.

A tea timeline

A history of tea: As the second most drunk beverage in the world (after water), tea has obviously been around a while in order to establish its global fame. Its history involves revolutions, wars, political intrigue, the establishment of major trading routes, huge corporations and plays no small part in the social history of many of the countries where it is popular. So, where did it all start?


A history of tea: If tea is a legendary drink then its story must start with a legend, and it does. Way back in time, 2737BC to be precise, the leaves from a Camellia sinensis bush accidentally fell into a cauldron of boiling water belonging to Chinese emperor and herbalist Shen Nung. So impressed was he with the resulting brew that this new-found tea fast became a staple in Chinese culture.

tea in china

Over many centuries, cultivation of and trading in tea grew as did the importance of it in Chinese culture, as witnessed by the numerous ceremonies associated with its preparation and consumption.

A history of tea: In the 8th century, the first known book about tea was penned by a writer called Lu Yu; the book had a snappy little title, Ch’a Ching, roughly translated to Classic of Tea. It was around this time, too, that Japanese Buddhist monks studying in China took the beverage back to their homeland and thus initiated what was to become another huge ceremonial tea culture that continues to this day.

tea cultivation in china

Did you know about Ly Yu’s Publication?

Lu Yu’s publication in 8th century China stated that there need to be 24 implements used in the making of tea. No simple kettles or mugs would do in those days!


A history of tea: The European fascination with tea didn’t begin until the early 17th century. Early Portuguese traders were probably the first Europeans to bring back tea from Asia, and it then became the beverage of choice in court circles.

But it was the Dutch who were the first to start importing commercial quantities of tea in 1606 from their outpost in Java. Tea then started to be traded throughout many regions in Western Europe.

tea comes to england


A history of tea: In England, tea arrived a little later. In 1658 there is a reference in a London newspaper of the time, Mercurius Politicus, to that ‘China drink’ being on sale at a coffee-house in the City.

At this time, tea was certainly not well known and appeared very much as a novelty item on coffee-house menus (that still applies today in some coffee bars!). Due to the fact that it had to travel thousands of miles to Europe, tea was expensive and affordable only by the aristocratic set.

A history of tea: Tea really started to make an impression in England when Catherine of Braganza, an early day tea addict, married Charles II in 1662. She’d developed her habit in Portugal but it soon spread to the court of King Charles II. This was truly the time when to be fashionable, one had to drink tea!

It was during this time, too, that Charles gave the monopoly for trading in the ‘East Indies’ to the East India Company, who became crucial to the cultivation and trading of tea over the next centuries. The city of Bombay (now Mumbai) was ‘gifted’ by Charles to the East India Company; to this day, Mumbai is a crucial player in the world of tea.

Russian caravan


A history of tea: Most of the tea that came to Western Europe came by merchant ships, but for Russia, the story was very different. Again, it was the late 17th century when tea started to be traded in Russia via the 11,000-mile trading route known as the Silk Road.

A history of tea: The tea was transported in ‘caravans’ that consisted of up to 300 camels, in a journey that could last up to 16 months. It is said that the Russian preference for ‘smoky’ tea comes from the fact that the tea transported via this method was tainted by the smoke from the campfires; tea picks up nearby flavours. As in Western Europe, tea was very much the beverage for the wealthy few due to its high expense.

tea in caravan

Did you know about the Good and bad effects of Tea was published in 1758?

In the 1700s there was quite a debate about the suitability of tea for the working classes. A pamphlet published in 1758 entitled The Good and Bad Effects of Tea Consider’d made out that tea was fine for middle and upper classes but not so for ‘persons of an inferior rank and mean abilities’. Snobbery at its worst; there was, of course, no meaningful reasoning to back this up. No airs, no graces, just fine tea for all, we say!

taxes on tea


A history of tea: As with any product that is both expensive and popular, governments realised that there was money to be raised by taxing tea. Tea was first taxed in England in 1689. The high duties imposed and the growing popularity of tea led, of course, to a black market.

A history of tea: smuggling of tea became more and more prevalent to a point where more tea was smuggled in than was legally imported. One of the results of this was that the East India Company not only had reduced profits but also large stockpiles of tea. To help them, the British government granted exclusive trading rights in tea to the America colony, which also included the right to collect the tax.

To cut a long story short, this decision helped drive the revolutionary fervour in America where the local people rebelled against the imposition of taxes by ‘colonial masters’.

A history of tea: The Boston Tea Party on 16th December 1773, where tea from boats belonging to the East India Company was thrown into the harbour waters, is probably one of the best-known historical moments associated with tea. The stir that this event caused would ultimately lead to the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence in July 1776.

tea east india company


A history of tea: An awful lot of bad stuff went on in the 19th century, some of it connected to tea and usually to the East India Company. It would probably take a degree course to go through it all but essentially, they got very greedy with taxes, bought lots of tea from China, didn’t want to pay for it in silver so resorted to dealing in opium, which led to the first opium war with China (1840). Phew!

A history of tea: As trading with China lessened, they started planting tea in India where they had far more power; too much in fact and eventually, the British government took control. But the legacy of tea planting really took hold both in India and in Sri Lanka, with acres and acres of land being planted mostly by enterprising Scots and English people.

To this day, the tea estates of  Darjeeling, Assam, Southern India and Sri Lanka owe their existence to the pioneering vision, hard work and tenacity of these early planters and, of course, to the ever-increasing global consumption of tea; nowhere more so than in Britain where lower taxes (at last!) and increased availability meant that tea was now drunk not just by the aristocracy but by the nation as a whole.


the rise of tea bag

A history of tea: Global tea consumption continued to grow throughout the 20th century. Major companies, such as Lipton, Lyons and Brooke Bond, developed tea brands and teashops in numerous countries. In the US the almost accidental invention of the teabag (around 1908) led to tea becoming more popular due to it being easier and less messy to make.

Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, sent samples of his tea to customers in small silken bags, which were mistakenly used by customers to actually brew the tea. Realising he was on to something, Sullivan improved the bags, eventually using paper to contain the tea. It wasn’t until the 1950s, after rationing from the Second World War had finished, that teabags were introduced into Britain by Tetley.

After a shaky start the British tea consumer became a fan of teabags, they were after all so much more convenient. They have now used the world over, though loose tea does still play a big role in many tea cultures. Today, the teabag continues to be popular, but some manufacturers are experimenting with other shapes of the teabag and other materials to contain the tea, other than paper.


lelow tea shop.jpg

A history of tea: So, some 4700-odd years after those leaves fell into the pot of Emperor Shen Nung, and despite the challenges of coffee, beer, wine and soft drinks to name but a few, tea continues to play a major role in the world and in modern-day society.

The use of herbal teas or tisanes, also steeped in centuries of tradition and folklore, along with the ever-popular brews from the tea plant Camellia sinensis means that more and more people are enjoying the delights of tea, whether it is hot, iced, in a naughty cocktail or two or maybe even as an ingredient in cooking.

A history of tea: There is also an increasing trend towards tea bars in cities worldwide where tea lovers can enjoy their favourite brew while connecting with people all around the globe.

Do you know about 11 golden rules?


George Orwell, better known for his political novels also wrote a very important piece about how to make the perfect cup of tea, involving 11 golden rules. Not sure we’d be too relaxed making him a brew!

a history of tea


  • 1888 -British tea imports from India exceed those from China for the first time.
  • 1908 – The invention of the teabag by Thomas Sullivan.
  • 1980S – Invention of the pyramidal mesh bag by NASA/Fuso industries in Japan for whole-leaf green tea.
  • 2015 – Tea remains the number one hot drink in the world.
  • 2737BC -Tea discovered by Emperor Shen Nung in China.
  • 8TH CENTURY – Chinese writer Lu Yu writes Ch’a Ching, the first-ever book on tea.
  • 1607 – First major import of tea from Asia to Europe by the Dutch.
  • 1658 – The first mention of tea published in a paper referring to the ‘China drink’ in a coffee bar in the City of London.
  • 1662 – Tea addict Catherine of Braganza marries Charles II and tea starts to become popular (within court circles only) in England.
  • 1680–90S – The Silk Road caravans establish a tea trade with Russia.
  • 1689 – The first tea tax is levied in England.
  • 1773 – The mother of all tea parties happens in Boston.
  • 1784 – Tax on tea is dramatically reduced by the British government, from 119% to 12%; unsurprisingly, legitimate tea sales grew.
  • 1839–1842 – The first opium war rages between China and Britain – a result of dubious business practices.
  • 1850S -Tea planting expands into India and Sri Lanka.

A history of tea is very old and vast, we hope this articles is helpful.

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