A brief history of tea

“Tea is the only simple pleasure left to us.” - Oscar Wilde


The history of tea is long, complex and steeped in legend and lore. Originating in southern China almost five thousand years ago; the first known references to tea were around 600 BC in the very first monograph of tea “The classic of Tea” written by Lu Yu. He believed tea symbolized the harmony and mysterious unity of the universe.

There are many legends that tell of the discovery of tea. One of the more popular myths tells of Emperor Shen Nong, the father of agriculture and herbal medicine, observing that leaves which had fallen into a boiling pot of water from a tree nearby resulted in a pleasant tasting and uplifting drink.

In the beginning, tea was processed and pressed into cakes much like Puerh It was a food source, a beverage and even used as a form of currency. Later, some teas were ground and whipped into a frothy drink, much like matcha. Finally, in the Ming dynasty, as foreign trade increased, there was a need for teas to last longer. The Chinese discovered fermenting and the loose leaf teas we enjoy today became the way. This was when black teas and oolongs were born.

Over centuries the tradition of tea spread and evolved worldwide. From China it was adopted into Japan through Zen buddhism around the 6th Century. It eventually became the basis for their way of life with the conception of the Japanese tea ceremony “Wabi Cha” and the ennoblement of tea into a religion of aestheticism, referred to as “Teaism”.

Tea even had a hand in peacekeeping during the civil war in the 16th Century! The tea ceremony became one of the most important diplomatic tools of the time, with an emphasis on ritual to reinforce the communal nature of life and the spiritual bond that exists between all people. The unity of warring Lords to negotiate peace was achieved through the sharing of a single cup of tea.

The British caught on in the 18th century. “China drink” started appearing in coffee houses in London. But it wasn’t until it was popularised by the fashionable Queen Catherine of Braganza, that the upper class began to turn their heads to tea. After a long battle with high taxation it eventually became the infusion of every class in Great Britain in the course of the 18th century and has remained so.

The practice of tea drinking has inspired thought and conversation for centuries. Today, we enjoy tea with toast in the morning, afternoon tea with friends, tea parties, and reflective moments over a steaming cup.

Whether you prefer White, Green, Oolong, or Black; Rooibos, Honeybush or fragrant floral and fruity herbal tisanes; there is a tea for every occasion or mood and we have them all here for you to discover at t Leaf T.

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