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History of tea: What is tea and where the plant first grew


The drinking of tea can be recorded as far back as the 3rd century AD when it was originally used for medicinal purposes. However, who was the first person to take a tea leaf, boil it in water and drink the contents? Well legend has it that Chinese emperor Shen Nung, who ruled over China almost 4000 years ago, was sat under a Camellia Sinensis tree drinking a cup of hot water when one of the leaves accidentally fell into his cup. The leaf was left to brew and when Shen Nung took a sip he liked the new taste discovery. Today the Camellia Sinensis leaf is used in nearly all teas and is the basis for black, oolong, green and white tea. 

China was primarily the only tea drinking country for hundreds of years and expanded into Japan after being discovered by monks visiting. When the shipping trade routes began to expand Dutch traders started to visit ports in China and soon discovered tea. In 1606 AD the first ship load of tea was delivered to a port in Holland from China. Its high cost meant that it was reserved as a drink for the wealthy and soon began to gain popularity with high society throughout Western Europe.

"I wonder if emperor Shen Nung was skilled in Tasseography and knew how big tea would get?"

PRINCESS CATHERINE OF BRAGANZA

The UK was slow to catch onto what was happening in Europe and was skeptical about any so called trends. It wasn't until the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza that would prove the turning point for tea in Britain. Princess Catherine, (we're on first name terms you see!) was Portuguese and a self proclaimed tea addict and it was her love for tea that established it in the UK as a fashionable drink. The East India Company also played a big role, importing tea into the country and helping to make it more affordable. The very first tea shipped into the UK in 1664.

So where did the first tea plant grow?

Well when we talk about tea, we are talking about Camellia Sinensis based teas which is the basis for green, black, white and oolong tea.

In 1824 the British brought a tea plant from China to Ceylon, which is now known as Sri Lanka. It was planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya and is considered the first non-commercial tea plant.

After nearly two decades in 1867 Scottish born James Taylor planted 19 acres of tea in the city of Kandy in Ceylon at the Loolecondra Estate which was the first commercial plantation. In 1872 teas from the estate were sent to London.

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