"I sent for a cup of tea (a China drink) of which I had never drunk before."
Samuel Pepys, diaries 25th September 1661
Legend has it that tea was first discovered by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, 5,000 years ago. A scholar and herbalist he was resting under a tree and whilst boiling his drinking water a leaf drifted down into it. The Emperor found the brew deliciously refreshing and revitalising - the rest is history!
Tea had reached China, possibly from its indigenous India, by 200 AD. The earliest record of its cultivation was the fourth century AD. It had travelled to Japan by the eighth century. The infusion method of preparing tea had become accepted practise during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). During this time it was discovered by Venetian spice traders. It was then brought from Java to Europe by the Dutch in 1610.
The first tea to Russia arrived in 1618 as a gift to Tsar Alexis. After a trade agreement in 1689 caravans of 200-300 camels were bringing tea in exchange for furs. The caravans continued until the opening of the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1903. Tea reached England in 1644 where it became socially important when it was adopted by the court of Charles II.
In the early twelfth century the Japanese monk Eisai brought back from China tea seeds and an understanding of the Rinzai Zen Buddhist sect. In time, a complicated and unique ceremony emerged - Cha-no-yu. It is a precise pattern of behaviour designed to create quiet after the arrival of guests, to engender spiritual refreshment. The Japanese Tea Ceremony captures four basic principles: harmony with people and nature, respect for others, purity of heart and mind and finally, tranquillity. It can be practiced at home in a special room set aside for the purpose and can take up to four hours. Matcha, a special type of green tea is traditionally used.
Tea to Europe
Regular trade by tea soon became established, traders sprinting across the seas by the famously fast tea clippers. In 1700 around 20,000 lbs of tea was imported into England. By 1750 tea had become the most popular drink in England and by 1800 this had risen a thousand-fold to the point where tea had replaced ale as the favoured drink at English breakfast tables. Try our wonderful English Breakfast tea, within the Blended Teas section. English afternoon tea was introduced by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford as a reviver in the long gap between lunch and dinner. It soon became a great social tradition.
Tea was first grown in India, in upper Assam, in 1823 from native tea bushes by Charles Bruce of the East India Company. The first shipment of Indian teas was to London in 1838. In the nineteenth century the Dutch went on to establish plantations in Indonesia and by the 1870s the English had established tea cultivation in Ceylon.
For 319 years until 29th June 1998 the City of London was a major trading market for tea. Sir John Lyon House, and prior to 1990, Plantation House was the centre of this activity but now most buying is done in the country of origin. Kenya and India have large trading markets.