History of Tea Consumption

Tea has a long history that dates back to the “ShenNong” era in ancient China around 5000-6000 years ago. Its probable center of origin is in southwest China, and it has been cultivated and known to Chinese people for a very long time. The Chinese word “cha” meaning tea is the first word that was coined for tea in the world. Tea was initially used as medicine for various illnesses in China and was known for its bitter taste. The development from tea as medicine to tea as a drink began in late Zhou Dynasty, and it gradually gained popularity in Qin Dynasty. In Qin Dynasty, medicinal tea had become tonic tea, which kept people fit and healthy. The Chinese doctors recommended tea to healthy persons to maintain good health, which resulted in a great rise in popularity.

During the Han Dynasty, tea drinking spread rapidly and its medicinal effects were documented in the Materia Medica. It was used as an antidote to herbal poisons, to cure swelling and abscesses in the head, and as a sleep inhibitor. The famous surgeon Hua Tuo said that drinking bitter tea constantly makes one think better, indicating that people were already drinking tea all day long for longevity. Tea was also used to offset the effects of alcohol, and as a remedy for drunkenness. However, excessive consumption of tea could result in chronic sleeplessness (Evans, 1992b).

During the Tang Dynasty in China (618-906 A.D.), tea production and popularity increased greatly. Green tea was invented as a steamed cake. Tea became a prestigious social drink and was consumed by all classes of society. There were tea banquets, parties, and competitions held by the elite, and the book “The Classic of Tea” was written by Lu Yu, providing a comprehensive description of tea production and preparation. Lu Yu emphasized the importance of harvesting tea leaves at the right time, using good quality water, and preparing tea properly. Drinking tea was seen as invigorating and pleasurable, with Tang poets writing about the physical and mental benefits of tea.

Tea became even more popular in China after the Tang Dynasty. Teahouses started appearing in the Song Dynasty and spread throughout the country. Black tea, which the Chinese called “red tea”, became popular in the Ming Dynasty, but most Chinese still drank green tea. Drinking tea was believed to be good for one’s health, and in the book Tea Manual written during this time, the author stated that drinking tea can quench thirst, aid digestion, check phlegm, prevent drowsiness, relieve boredom, and help digest fatty foods.

Tea was first introduced to Japan from China in the 9th century. Russia received small amounts of tea from China overland in the late 17th century. The Dutch brought the first tea to Europe in the early 17th century and supplied tea to England. London had the first tea served to the public in 1657. By the mid-1750s, tea houses and tea gardens were appearing in and around London. Tea became the national drink of the British Isles. Chinese and Europeans used to drink tea differently, with Chinese drinking it without sugar and Europeans adding sugar, but the difference seems less prominent now.

In ancient China, many books were written about tea from Tang Dynasty to Qing Dynasty. These books included herbal medicine, tea manuals, and historic publications. Tea was said to have 24 physiological and therapeutic effects, such as calming down, relieving headache, and helping digestion. Drinking tea also benefited human health in two major ways. Firstly, it changed the way people consumed water and helped them avoid diseases. Secondly, tea could be a good substitute for alcohol, which can cause damage to the body.

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