A Thirst for the Best (Tea)

Most of the world seems to be divided up amongst tea or coffee drinkers, although there are many who drink neither for religious or other reasons. Today, both tea and coffee are savored throughout the world, but how did they become so popular?

The story of tea is steeped in a legend. Around four and a half thousand years ago an emperor in China declared that his subjects must boil water before drinking it. One day, while the emperor’s water was boiling, some leaves accidentally fell into the pot. The emperor was impressed not only by the flavor but by the fact he felt rejuvenated after drinking it. We know now that the plant was Camellia sinensi.

In Japan, tea began with an Indian born Buddhist monk who had traveled to China at the end of the 5th century. In an effort to stay awake while meditating, this monk cut off his eyelids and threw them on the ground. Two tea plants then grew from where he’d thrown his eyelids. The leaves on the plants were made into a drink which revitalized the drinkers.

While tea has been drunk for centuries in the east, it took until the 17th century for tea to be imported into Europe, where it was first known as a medicinal drink. It first became a popular drink in the Netherlands for those who could afford it. The Dutch in turn introduced tea to Germany, France and England. In 1689, the East Indian Company began to import tea directly from China. The history of tea has a disturbing side because for years opium was traded for the tea. In 1839 the Chinese Emperor decided to abolish the trade, incensing Britain and prompting the Opium War.  

In North America, tea had been introduced by the Dutch to New Amsterdam and tea drinking continued after the British conquered and renamed the city New York. However, when high taxes were imposed, tea became the symbol of revolutionary action. Tea went from being a favorite beverage to a symbol of tyranny. After the Boston Tea Party coffee became a national habit and Americans became coffee drinkers. 

For the story of coffee, and its continued relationship with tea, stay tuned for my next post.


PS: Be sure to click on the book covers for links to the books in the library catalog.

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