You are here: Home > All About Tea > History of Tea

ABOUT TEA: tea types| camellia sinensis | brewing guide| tea & health | caffeine | tea farms| storage | glossary


Important Dates in the History of Tea
2737 B.C.E. Tea is reportedly first discovered in China by the mythical second emperor, Shen Nung, known as the Divine Healer, when leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant drift into a heated open pot of water. (The adventurous leader supposedly ate 365 medicinal plants over the course of his lifetime -- until he turned green and died from toxic overdoses.)

350 A.C.E. The first description of drinking tea is written in a Chinese dictionary.

400 - 600 The demand for tea rose steadily. Rather than harvest leaves from wild trees, farmers began to develop ways to cultivate tea. Tea was commonly made into roasted cakes, which were then pounded into small pieces and placed in a china pot. After adding boiling water, onion, spices, ginger or orange were introduced to produce many regional variations.

479 Turkish traders bartered for tea on the Mongolian border.

618 - 906 T'ang Dynasty. Powdered tea became the fashion of the time. It was often mixed with other ingredients and brewed, reducing the real tea taste. Nobility made tea a popular pastime. Caravans carried tea on the Silk Road, trading with India, Turkey, and Russia.

780 Poet Lu Yu, wrote the first book of tea, making him a living saint, patronized by the Emperor himself. The book described methods of cultivation and preparation.

805 The Buddhist monk Saicho brought tea seeds to Japan from China.

960 - 1280 Song (Sung) Dynasty. Tea was used widely. Powdered tea had become common. Beautiful ceramic tea accessories were made during this time. Dark-blue, black and brown glazes, which contrasted with the vivid green of the whisked tea, were favored.

1101 - 1125 Emperor Hui Tsung wrote about the best ways to make whisked tea. A strong patron of the tea industry, he had tournaments in which members of the court identified different types of tea. Legend has it that he became so obsessed with tea he hardly noticed the Mongols who overthrew his empire. During his reign, teahouses built in natural settings became popular among the Chinese. 1191 Eisai Myoan, the monk who brought Zen Buddhism to Japan, returned from a trip to China with tea seeds, which he planted on the grounds of his temple near Kyoto. Eisai experimented with different ways to brew tea, finally adopting the Chinese whisked tea.

1206 - 1368 Yuan Dynasty. Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan conquered Chinese territories and established a Mongolian dynasty in power for more than a century. Tea became an ordinary drink, never regaining the high status it once enjoyed. Marco Polo was not even introduced to tea when he visited.

1211 In Japan, Eisai wrote a small book on tea, elevating its popularity further.

1368 - 1644 Ming Dynasty. People again began to enjoy tea. The new method of preparation was steeping whole leaves in water. The resulting pale liquid necessitated a lighter color ceramic than was popular in the past. The white and off white tea-ware produced became the style of the time. The first Yixing pots were made at this time.

1422 - 1502 The Japanese tea ceremony was created by a Zen priest named Murata Shuko, who had devoted his life to tea. The ceremony is called Cha No Yu, which means "hot water for tea."

1610 The Dutch brought tea to Europe from China, trading dried sage in exchange.

1618 Chinese ambassadors presented Czar Alexis with a gift of several chests of tea.

1657 Tea was first sold in England at Garway's Coffee House in London.

1661 The Taiwanese began to drink wild tea.

1662 Charles II took Catherine Braganza of Portugal as his wife. They both drank tea, creating a fashion for it. Its popularity among the aristocracy causes alcohol beverages to fall from favor.

1669 Close to 150 pounds of tea were shipped to England.

1689 Traders with three hundred camels traveled 11,000 miles to China and back in order to supply Russia's demand. The trip took sixteen months.

1697 In Taiwan, settlers of Formosa's Nantou county cultivated the first domestic bushes. Dutch ships carried the tea to Persia, the first known export of Taiwanese tea.

1705 The yearly importation of tea to England grew to approximately 800,000 pounds

1710 Wealthy American Colonists developed a taste for tea.

1773 The Boston Tea Party, protesting high taxes that England levied on tea, began of the American colonies' fight for independence. Under cover of night, colonists dressed as Native Americans boarded East India Company ships in Boston Harbor. They opened chests of tea and dumped their contents into the water. This was repeated in other less known instances up and down the coast.

1776 England sent the first opium to China. Opium addiction in China funded the escalating demand for tea in England. Cash trade for the drug increased until the opium wars began in 1839.

1835 The East India Company established experimental tea plantations in Assam, India.

1834 An Imperial Edict from the Chinese Emperor closed all Chinese ports to foreign vessels until the end of the First Opium War in 1842.

1838 A small amount of Indian tea sent to England was eagerly consumed due to its novelty.

1840s Clipper ships, built in America, sped up the transportation of tea to America and Europe, livening the pace of trade. Some ships could make the trip from Hong Kong to London in ninety-five days. Races to London became commonplace; smugglers and blockade runners also benefited from the advances in sailing speeds.

1856 Tea was planted in many areas of Darjeeling.

1857 Tea plantations were started in Ceylon, though their tea would not be exported until the 1870s.

1869 A deadly fungus wiped out the coffee crop in Ceylon, shifting preference from coffee to tea.

1869 The Suez Canal opened, making the trip to China shorter and more economical by steamship.

1870 Twinings of England began to blend tea for consistency.

1900 Trans-Siberian railroad made transport to Russia cheaper and faster. Java became an important producer as well.

1904 Richard Blechynden created iced tea for the St Louis World Fair.

1908 Thomas Sullivan invented tea bags in New York, sending tea to clients in silk bags which they began to mistakenly steep without opening.

1910 Sumatra, Indonesia grows and exports tea. Soon thereafter, tea is grown in Kenya and other parts of Africa.

1970 The Taiwanese government encouraged its population to drink tea, revitalizing tea culture on the island.


>> back to About Tea