A quick history of tea


Tea has been used in East Asia for literally thousands of years.

According to Chinese legend, the great Emperor Shen Nong accidentally discovered tea while relaxing in his garden one afternoon over 4,700 years ago. A highly respected leader and scientist, the Emperor was sipping boiled water, a common drink in China at the time, when the wind blew some leaves from a nearby tree into his cup! Like many great discoveries, tea was discovered entirely by accident!

Shen Nong found the world's first cup of tea to be so unusual and delicious that he quickly began to research the properties of tea, only to discover its medicinal properties!


So whats the real story?

Some modern historians believe Chinese traders actually got their first tea from Tibet and the surrounding Himalayan region, where tea may have been chewed like coca for generations before the Chinese discovered it.

Whether or not Tibetans chewed tea first, China was the first country to drink tea, and they'd be the only country to do so for the next 3,000 years.


Whichever is the truth, I think we can all agree we're glad someone discovered tea!

Even after it was discovered, though, tea was usually treated as a medicine and wasn't enjoyed socially until much later.

During the Tang Dynasty in 618-907 AD, tea finally went viral and became the most popular drink in China. Soon everyone was drinking tea on a daily basis. And of course, when everyone's using something on a regular basis, big brother wants his cut too: as soon as tea became really popular, the Chinese instituted the first tea tax.

Back then, tea-making was really simple. People would often just grind up their leaves by hand directly into a pot of boiling water.


But this couldn't last long.

Tea was far too popular to remain so haphazard, and tea etiquette quickly became a subject of intense focus in China, lasting from the 700s at least until the 1500s.

For a while, tea leaves were ground into a powder and whipped into hot water.

In the early 800s, over 3,000 years after China discovered tea, it was finally introduced to Japan. In Japan, tea slowly spread amongst the many monasteries, but didn't become a popular drink until the 1300s.

Around this same time, the first references to tea begin appearing in Middle East and North African writings.

By the 1300s, steeping tea leaves in hot water was finally considered the one “correct” way to prepare a cup of tea. It's remained this way for 700 years now.


So how did Tea get to Europe?

By the 1300s, tea was more or less consumed in the same way it is today, and its popularity was spreading across eastern and southern Asia.

Around the same time, Europe was beginning to explore the world. So it was only natural the two worlds would collide, and Europeans would become fascinated by the teas of the Orient.

Like in China and Japan, tea was slow to become popular in Europe. But by the 1500s, tea was being imported into Europe, and by the early 1600s, Dutch traders were buying tea on the Silk Road.


Adventurous Aristocrats?

In the 1600s, tea absolutely exploded onto the scene in upper-class European cities. To the rich, it was seen as a way of exploring the world from the comfort of their own home. (Just like you can with the Hayes Tea subscription!)

Soon, tea would be a symbol of high-class Britain!

In the 1850s, America quickly adopted tea as an important part of our culture too. And for the next 170 years, from the invention of iced tea and teabags to the founding of Hayes Tea, the United States has been at the forefront of the teaniverse!