Tea World

Lesson 1

Spread of Tea-drinking

Print,PDF and Email

Despite its extensive use in China and later in Japan, tea-drinking did not spread to other parts of the world until about the middle of the 17th century. Tea was introduced into Japan from China by the Buddhist monks in the early part of 8th century. In the early 9th  century, Japanese visitors to China were introduced to the values and traditions of tea. The Buddhist monk Dengyo Daishi is credited with bringing Chinese tea seeds to Japan when he returned from his studies abroad. He wrote the first Japanese treatise on tea in A.D. 1191.

 Subsequently, tea became an integral part of Japanese monastery life; as the monks used tea to help stay alert during meditation sessions. By the early 1300's, tea gained popularity throughout the Japanese society, but its early religious importance permanently colored the meaning and value the Japanese associate with tea and directly influenced the Japanese Tea Ceremony.By about 14th  century, the custom of tea drinking spread to the high society. The current style of drinking green tea among the people in all walks of life was established in Japan about 350 years ago.

The Chinese had introduced tea to Tibet by the dawn of the 9th  century. Tibet's rugged climate and rocky terrain made cultivation of their own plants difficult, so tea had to be imported from China via yak caravan. The long, tiring journey into Tibet by yak took nearly one year and was threatened not only by the dramatic terrain of some of the highest mountains in the world, but by tea-seeking thieves and pirates. To keep up with the high Tibetan tea demand, nearly two to three hundred tea-laden yaks entered the country daily.
Tea became so popular in Tibet and the surrounding areas that it was used as a form of currency. Compressed tea was a common form of payment for almost anything, and workers and servants were routinely paid in this way.

In 1618, the Chinese presented a gift of tea to Tsar Alexis of Russia and tea quickly gained popularity. A camel caravan trade route emerged to transport tea into the country. This caravan covered 11,000 miles (17,703 km) and took nearly 1½ years to travel by camel. To keep the tea-hungry Russians satisfied, nearly 6,000 camels, each carrying 600 pounds of tea entered Russia each year. In 1903, the camel caravan was replaced by the famous Trans-Siberian Railway, which slashed the transportation time from 1½ years to just over a week.

The opening of a sea route to India and the East by the Portuguese in 1497, was the beginning of large scale trading between Europe and the countries of the East, especially East Asia. Other European nations also started trading with different countries of the East. The Dutch opened a depot in Java and from there, they transshipped the first consignment of tea bought from China to Europe. This was the beginning of the lucrative tea trade between Europe and the East. Although other European nations started trade, the Dutch dominated the tea trade for more than a century and finally, of course, yielding to the British. Tea shipped to Europe came from China, which was the sole supplier of tea till the middle of the 19th century.

Within about 100 years after the first introduction, tea became an article of daily use in a large part of Europe. England's dance with tea did not start until 1662 when King Charles II married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. Britain's new Queen had always loved tea and brought with her, as part of her dowry, a chest of fine Chinese tea. She began serving the tea to her aristocratic friends at Court, and the word of the exotic Royal beverage spread quickly.

 Tea became popular in America also, which was then British colony. By the second half of the 18th century, tea constituted the single largest and most valuable commodity exported by Britain. The British government ordered a specific "tea tax" to capitalise off its popularity in America. Greed prevailed and the tax rate gradually reached 119%, more than doubling the initial cost of tea as it entered the the American wholesale market. In defiance, the American ports refused to allow any dutiable goods ashore. This resulted in the infamous Boston Tea Party, the British government's closure of Boston harbor, and the arrival of British troops on American soil. This series of events marked the beginning of the American War of Independence.   

Tea drinking in Assam is also equally old like in China. However, it was known only among the aborigines. The Singpho, one tribe of Assam is believed to be familiar with tea plant and making and drinking tea from antiquity, which they called Fanap or Phalap. Besa Gam, a Singpho Chief handed over the seeds of the plant which they called Fanap to Robert Bruce and the plant was later recognised as Assam tea plant.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Leave a comment


Other Lessons