History Of Tea, And It's Fascinating Journey Across The World

No matter the season, tea is always a popular beverage and can be served iced or hot. In the Indian subcontinent, people start their day with a cup of tea, have it post lunch, in the evening and also after dinner. This growing trend for tea drinking in India and the rest of the world can be put down to the medicinal benefits of tea. There are many interesting facts about tea that you haven’t heard of so keep reading.

Why is it called ‘Tea’

Tea got its name from China, where it was first discovered around 300 BC. Tea was first used as a medicinal herb, but it was later discovered that tea also had psychoactive properties. Today, tea is one of the world's most popular beverages, enjoyed by people all over the world. In China, tea is particularly popular - in fact, it's the country's second-most-popular beverage after water. Thanks to its delicious flavor and health benefits, tea is often considered a luxury item. 

Tea Vs Chai

The key difference between chai and tea is the addition of spices and herbs in it while tea is served without it. Chai or masala tea contains black tea, milk and spices mix of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and pepper. Tea, is made by steeping the tea leaves in milk and water with sweeteners.

How did Tea or Chai get its name

‘Tee’ appeared as an early form of ‘tea’ in English during the years 1650–1659, but was pronounced ‘tay’ until the early eighteenth century. ‘Chai’ became the Indian term for tea. ‘Thé’ referred to it in France. The Chinese first applied the ideograph ch’a to tea after AD 725, and then used the plant's name for the first time. Tea was first traded to the Arab world, Russia, Persia, Tibet, Turkey, and Japan as cha. In Persian, Japanese, and Hindi, the word became cha, in Arabic shai, in Tibetan ja, in Turkish chay, and in Russian chai. Tea was bought by the Portuguese from China, and the Chinese name cha was then used in all these languages. The Chinese name cha was used in all of these languages, except in Japanese. Basically, if it's called tea in a country, it came by the sea route; if it’s called chai/cha it came over via a land route. 

How the British came to love tea 

The British Isles and tea – a love story for the ages. The British discovered tea after the exploration of India by the Portuguese. The East India Company paid for tea from China with silver. The British fell head over heels for this beverage, and couldn’t get enough of it. No, really, it has become a near addiction. Tea first reached those islands in the 1650s, and was a novelty drink in London’s coffee houses. At the time, tea was popular with the aristocracy of Portugal b ut hardly anyone in Britain consumed tea. In the 1660s, a princess named Catherine from Portugal married the king of England, Charles II. Catherine loved her tea and soon had the noble families of England hooked onto her favorite beverage. The East India company began importing tea. People of all classes took to tea but it was still expensive. During the British Raj period, from 1858 to 1947, the British government encouraged tea production in India. The government put taxes on tea imports and taxes on tea exports, which helped bolster India’s tea industry and make millions of pounds for the East India Company. 

How the British went to war over tea, and became drug lords

The British addiction to tea was becoming expensive. Too much money was going to China and Britain wanted to address this draining of its resources. Most people might dial back their consumption, but not the British, apparently. Opium was first brought to Europe from Asia in the 16th century, and by the 19th century, it had become an epidemic. Britain decided to produce and sell opium to the Chinese in order to balance the massive tea expense they were incurring. This opium was grown in India, especially in Benghal, Bihar and the Malwa plateau. The British sold (read smuggled) opium not only in China, but to many other parts of the world as well. This trade led to massive profits for the British, and essentially paid the large tea bill for Britain. It also caused a lot of pain and suffering. Opium addiction was particularly rampant in China, where it became known as the "drug of the masses." The opium trade, the Chinese attempts to quell it, and Britain’s pushback using its formidable navy ultimately led to the Opium Wars, two wars fought between China and Britain from 1839-1842, and again from 1856-1860. The wars were ultimately unsuccessful for China, resulting in massive loss of life, economic costs and a series of events that led to Hong Kong becoming a major port and financial center. However, they also led to the eventual prohibition of opium sales, which helped reduce the prevalence and severity of the drug trade.

How did tea become the number one beverage in England

Even after fighting Opium wars with China, the Chinese tea industry continued to flourish and the British were paying large amounts of money to the Chinese. The Chinese authorities forbade their people from sharing recipes, or even tea plants, with foreigners. The British were determined to produce tea that tasted as fine as Chinese tea and wouldn’t leave them broke. So, in the mid-1800s, the British government sent a botanist named Robert Fortune into China to steal the tea secrets of the Ching dynasty. Fortune was a resourceful man - he could talk and understand both Chinese and English fluently, and was also a skilled pickpocket. He managed to infiltrate the Ching court and steal their most prized tea secrets. Upon his return to England, he quickly spread the word about the secrets of tea preparation in China. He found that though all tea came from the same plant (Camellia sinensis), the difference in the types of tea – green and black - was due to processing. Black tea was fermented, green tea was not. Fortune smuggled many tea plants out of China, and soon, India’s Himalayan regions near Assam were producing more Chinese tea than China, and at lower cost. 

Assam Tea Gardens Planted by The British to Topple the Chinese Tea Industry

The British began planting tea gardens in Assam in the late 18th century in an effort to counter the growing power of the Chinese tea industry. At the time, the British considered tea to be a valuable commodity, and they saw Assam as a potential tea-growing region that could help them achieve their strategic goals. Today, the British tea industry is still a major player in Assam, and the tea gardens there are some of the most famous in the world. The gardens are a popular tourist destination, and they produce some of the finest tea in the world. The Assam tea plantations are also a major source of income for the local people, who often work in the tea gardens as gardeners, laborers, or supervisors. Overall, the British tea industry has been a successful one, albeit one with a dark past, and it has played a significant role in shaping the history of Assam and the tea industry as a whole.

Tea is a multi-billion-dollar industry

Around the globe, three billion cups of tea are consumed every day. The global tea industry is thriving, and is worth an estimated $40 billion. And, of course, tea is a popular drink in more than 150 countries worldwide. 

So, if you're looking for a hot drink popular in many countries, tea is a good option. Not to mention, tea is healthy and has some health benefits you may not know about. For example, tea contains caffeine which can help to boost energy levels and improve focus. 

And, of course, tea also contains antioxidants which can help to protect against damage caused by the sun and other chemicals. So next time you're feeling thirsty, give tea a try - you may be surprised at how good it tastes!