Tea History – From Enlightened Princes to Angry Monkeys
Tea. The great British addiction and the answer to all of lives ailments. What could possibly not be made better by a steaming hot cuppa? But did you know tea never originated in England? In fact the idea of steaming leaves in hot water dates back nearly 5,000 years but didn’t reach Europe until the 17th century. So what was our favourite drink doing for all those years? Let’s dive into this tea history!
The Very First Pot of Tea
Let us tell you a story about a man called Shen Nung…
So the legend goes, back in around 2700 BC a Chinese emperor and renowned herbalist was boiling water when leaves from a nearby tea shrub blew into his pot. The water turned a light shade of brown and released a sweet scent. So he decided to taste the strange brew (as you do). It was so pleasing to him that he immediately announced it was something everyone had to start drinking.
From then on this new concoction was advertised as being invigoration for both the spirit and min and so the simple cup of tea was born.
The Discovery of Tea in India
But that’s not the only story about tea, because when it comes to the world’s most beloved hot drink there’s a crazy story for every nation.
Once upon a time in the 6th century lived an Indian prince called Bodhidharma. When he converted to Buddhism, he decided to visit China to spread the word. In order to stay awake for constant meditation and prayers, he began chewing leaves from the tea shrub because the caffeine in the leaves acted as a stimulant. And so that’s how the Indian’s discovered tea. Although there’s a much more disturbing version of this story where our enlightened prince Bodhidharma accidentally fell asleep and was so angry with himself upon waking that he cut off his own eyelids and threw them away – and from his discarded eyelids grew India’s first tea shrub. But we don’t like that story as much. No one wants those kinds of images while sipping their daily brew.
So how did we go from accidental tea chewing and brewing in the East, to our morning UK cuppa?
Tea fell in and out of favour in China until the Ming dynasty (which lasted a very long time indeed – from 1368-1644). During this period tea was enjoyed as a cultural ritual with leaves being steeped in boiling water. The Dutch East India company began trading tea around the world at the time too, which is why that process remains the way we in the West enjoy a cup of tea too. It was also during this time that the Chinese experimented with different types of teas, giving us the wonderful variations we enjoy today.
We’re now going to leave you with a little tea monkey story – because we’re all about monkeys and tea.
According legend, hundreds of years ago there was a Chinese village that was famed for its tea production. But harvesting is a back-breaking, slow and laborious task. So the story goes that the villagers taunted the local monkeys that lived in the tea fields. In turn, the animals would become so angry they’d grab handfuls of tea leaves and throw them at the villagers. Cheap and fast labour! Some teas today still claim to be harvested in this manner, but it’s highly unlikely. “Monkey picked tea” contains leaves picked by the fistful by angry humiliated monkeys.
But if it’s monkeys and tea you are after, check out our shop where our Leafy Bean loose-tea is hand-selected by us to bring you the best tea flavours from around the world. In sustainable packaging. With no monkeys harmed in the process.
We hope you enjoyed this tea history! Join our Instagram tea-m for more brews and news!