A Brief History of Tea

When was the first cup brewed?

Japanese women having tea

Here is a short timeline of some noteable dates in the history of tea. Over the centuries, tea has gradually gained in popularity. How important will it be in the next century?

2737 BC
According to legend Chinese Emperor Shen Nung discovers tea when some leaves from a nearby bush fall into his pot of boiling water. (Water was commonly boiled at this time before drinking.) Rather than discard the water, he sipped it and found that it invigorated him.

206 BC- 220 AD
During the Han Dynasty, tea becomes a major commodity for the first time.

59 BC
Wang Bao wrote the first known book with instructions on buying and preparing tea.

220 AD
Famed physician and surgeon Hua Tuo wrote Shin Lun, in which he describes tea's ability to improve mental functions.

A Japanese monk named Eisai brings tea seeds to Kyoto and plants Japan’s first tea bushes.

The Japanese tea ceremony begins to develop under the guidance of Zen monk Sen-no Rikyu

British East India Company granted a charter by Queen Elizabeth I.

Dutch East India Company established.

The first shipment of Chinese tea, Fujian grown Tong mu Phoenix Lapsang, reaches Holland. News of the exotic new beverage begins to spread throughout European society.

Tea appreciation begins among the elite of Paris. It is believed that the practice of adding milk to tea was developed in France by a noblewoman, Madame de la Sablière.

Tea introduced to England by the Dutch. The new beverage comes to be touted as one of the world’s first “health products” and is recommended by the government as a replacement for Ale, then the traditional breakfast beverage.

London’s tea auction begins selling its first lots of Chinese tea.

East India Company's tea sales reach 97,000kg for the year.                    

Boston Tea Party. Chests of tea are thrown into Boston Harbor to protest against a newly imposed tax on tea by Britain.

East India Company's tea sales grow to 14.5 million kgs per annum. These large numbers may be attributed to the fact that the company holds a monopoly on British tea imports from China.

Robert Bruce, a Scot, learns of wild tea growing in Assam and reports his find to East India Headquarters in London. (Until this time the British Empire had yet to produce her own tea in large quantities)

First lot of Assam tea sails for London. This lot of 12 chests fetches high prices at auction. China’s monopoly on world production begins to diminish.

Tea is first planted in Darjeeling by a British surgeon working in the area.

James Taylor establishes Ceylon’s first tea factory.

Late 1800's
Cultivation and trading of Rooibos begins in South Africa.

The silk teabag makes its debut. Purists everywhere sigh.
Note: the first teabags were made of real silk, not the “silken” material used in many of today’s teabags - a non-biodegradable nylon. 

Tea merchant Thomas Sullivan of New York first sells teabags commercially.

 Iced tea makes its debut at the St. Louis World Fair.

By the early 20th century, world exports of tea reach approx. 310,000 metric tons per annum. Of this, 75% is from India and Ceylon and 9% from Dutch producers in Indonesia. 60% of all exports go to Britain. (Exact figures for China during this period not known. As well, wholesale commercial production of tea in Africa would not start until later in the 20th century.)

Americans consumed well over 79 billion servings of tea — more than 3.6 billion gallons. About 84% of all tea consumed was black tea, 15% was green tea, with the remainder comprising oolong and white tea. About 85% of tea consumed in America was in the form of iced tea.

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