Tea history

Tea is at the centre of many exciting and fascinating stories. Learn about the legend of the accidental discovery of tea, the first ceremonies, the invention of the tea bag and tea’s phenomenal rise to become the most popular beverage in the world.

Tea in Japan

Buddhist monks introduced the Japanese to the art of brewing tea in the year 552 CE. Soon, the new tea adepts created a highly detailed ceremony to practice the enjoyment of tea. The term teaism, which was coined much later, refers to the almost religious reverence for tea in Japan.

Tea becomes a commodity

During the splendid T’ang Dynasty (618–907 CE), tea became a common trade good in China. Tea made its way into all parts of society, and was no longer reserved for the upper classes and clergy.

The first book about tea

In the 8th century, the Chinese writer Lu Yu penned a three-volume book about tea under a commission from a group of tea merchants. This was the first definitive treatise ever written about tea, and also a tribute to what had become a very popular beverage. Lu Yu was honoured as the patron saint of tea for many generations after his death.

Europe discovers tea

The first load of tea from Japan came by ship to Amsterdam via Java in 1610.

From that point on, the Dutch were the only tea importers for over 50 years, and supplied the beverage to all of Europe. The British got into the business in 1669, and the East India Company they established for this purpose held a monopoly on tea imports until 1833. Tea was also brought to Europe by land. A caravan carried 200 packages of tea from Mongolia to Michael I, Russia’s first Romanov Czar, as a birthday gift in the middle of the 17th century. The caravans travelled from Peking through the Gobi Desert, across Siberia, past Lake Baikal and onward to the Volga.

Even in the 19th century, it was said that the Russian caravan tea was of a better quality than the tea that was carried by ship, because the latter was stored in damp, tarred and foul-smelling holds. This tea was sweetened with sugar because of the undesired after-taste.

The advent of teatime

In 1662, teatime was officially introduced at the court of England’s king Charles II. This firmly established tea in European society, and made it one of the most important commodities.

The Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party

English immigrants brought tea with them to America at the end of the 17th century. It gained popularity over time, especially among the wealthier classes, and tea parties became a regular occurrence. In 1760, tea ranked third among all goods that were imported into New England. In dire need of money because of the Seven Years’ War, England saw these imports as a new source of revenue. High taxes were imposed on tea. People throughout the colonies were in an uproar. The East India Company (the largest tea merchant) enacted an immediate tax cut in response. But it was too late, the colonists wanted revenge. On 16 December 1773, members of the Saint Andrew Freemason’s lodge in Boston disguised themselves as Mohicans, boarded the East India Company ships in the harbour and threw 342 crates of tea overboard. This incident, called the Boston Tea Party, marked the beginning of the American war to gain independence from English rule.

China’s dominance wanes

China’s dominance wanes

William Bentinck laid the foundation for the cultivation of tea in India in 1834. As a result, China lost its tea growing monopoly. After the end of the tea import monopoly, British traders saw especially serious competition from America starting in 1834. This competition gave rise to the so-called tea clippers: ships with four or more masts, a sharp bow and narrow hull. They offered a relatively large load capacity at a low weight, and could sail at high speeds. One of the most famous British tea clippers is the Cutty Sark, which was built in 1869 and can still be seen on the Thames in Greenwich. The Suez Canal was also opened in 1869, shortening the distance to the tea growing areas by roughly 7,000 km. This made it possible to carry tea on steam freighters, because there were enough coal stations along this route. The era of the tea clipper came to an end, and modern trade shipping was born.

From the tea infuser to the tea bag

The first precursor of the tea bag was created by Thomas Sullivan, a tea importer in New York who packed tea samples in small gauze bags and sent them to his customers in 1908. These gauze bags were a smashing success.

In Germany, TEEKANNE GmbH & Co. KG learned of this predecessor of the tea bag. It created the so-called “tea bomb” to supply soldiers with tea during World War I. It was a practical solution, but the gauze affected the flavour of the tea.

The double-chamber bag

In 1949, TEEKANNE introduced the double-chamber tea bag.

It was made by folding high-quality filter paper, and used no glue! The tea is placed in two chambers. This allows the water to come into optimal contact with the tea from all sides, fully releasing its flavour.

This introduced a new era of tea drinking, because TEEKANNE’s invention revolutionised how tea was consumed.

Tea in bags began taking the world by storm and allowed TEEKANNE to attain international prominence, with its name closely associated with the invention of the double-chamber bag.

Tea bomb - in Germany TEEKANNE GmbH & Co. KG took notice of this forerunner of the tea bag.  

Tea bomb - in Germany TEEKANNE GmbH & Co. KG took notice of this forerunner of the tea bag.

With these "tea bombs" TEEKANNE served their tea to the soldiers at the first world war.  

With these "tea bombs" TEEKANNE served their tea to the soldiers at the first world war.

At the end of the 20is of the previous century TEEKANNE started to experiment with the solution of the USA: a one chamber bag solution.  

At the end of the 20is of the previous century TEEKANNE started to experiment with the solution of the USA: a one chamber bag solution.

1949 TEEKANNE launched the double chamber bag on the market. A new era started. This was a real revolution.  

1949 TEEKANNE launched the double chamber bag on the market. A new era started. This was a real revolution.

At the beginning of the 20th century it become popular to go out for drinking a cup of tea.

Tango was imported from Argentinia about 1913 and these dance events were promoted together with tea. 

Tea today

Today, some 3.5 million metric tons of tea are produced worldwide every year (source: Deutscher Teeverband e.V.). Tea is the most popular beverage in the world, and only water is consumed more frequently.

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