How tea traveled around the world


So if you attended our previous class then you’ll have a good understanding of the history of tea. In this class we’ll expand on things a little further and look at how tea traveled around the world. So let’s start at the beginning and hope over to….


By the third century AD tea was being encouraged for its health benefits and as a refreshingly drink.  During the Tang Dynasty (618 AD – 906 AD) tea really became the drink to consume and soon became China’s national drink. Tea farmers keen to capitalise on this new demand stopped harvesting from wild tea trees and began planting crops.

Lu Yu

In 780 A.D. a Chinese man called Lu Yu wrote the first definitive book on tea called the “Ch’a Ching”.  Ironically the book didn’t bring him endless fortune as the title might suggest but it did bring him popularity throughout China and Lu Yu was fondly known as the “Tea Saint”.

Lu Yu’s book went on to inspire Zen Buddhist missionaries who created a form of tea service.  They introduced this tea drinking ritual to imperial Japan which became a traditional Japanese tea ceremony called Chanoyu; a ritual for the preparation, serving, and drinking of tea. The spread of tea cultivation throughout China and Japan that is largely accredited to the movement of Buddhist priests throughout the region.


Although Buddhist missionaries and priests had spread the word about tea in Japan it was the Zen priest Eisai and founder of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism in Japan that had the biggest influence on tea drinking in Japan when he returned from China in 1191 A.D.  Eisai brought back and planted tea seeds in the hills northwest of Kyoto at the iconic Kozanji temple. It was the start of tea in Japan and Eisai’s influence on tea farming in Japan lead to him being nicknamed the “Father of Tea” by the Japanese.

Tea was elevated to an art form with the Chanoyu tea ceremony that became institutionalized during the Kamakura period (1192 – 1333 AD) when tea was taken by Zen Buddhist monks to keep them awake during meditations.


While tea was becoming a way of life in the east, Europe had only heard rumors from scattered travelers of this thing they called tea.  One reference even suggested that the leaves be boiled, salted, buttered, and eaten….yummy.

The first European to actually write about tea (in its liquid form) was a Portuguese missionary named Father Jasper de Cruz in 1560 who was likely to have hitched a ride on a ship to China.  However, it was the Dutch who brought tea to Europe in 1606 AD when the first ship load of tea was delivered to a port in Holland

East India Company, Dutch, 1602–1798, chartered by the States-General of the Netherlands to expand trade and assure close relations between the government and its colonial enterprises in Asia brought tea to the commercial markets of Europe.

Tea became very fashionable in the Dutch capital The Hague.  The high cost of the tea made it a drink reserve for the wealthy. Homes of the rich and famous had exclusive tearooms for drinking and socialising.  In fact it was the Dutch that first introduced milk to tea.

As more tea was imported the price of tea began to drop and it wasn’t long before tea could be found in more common food shops throughout Holland.  As the popularity of tea grew throughout Holland neighboring countries jumped on the band wagon and a craze for all things oriental swept through Europe.


The first samples of tea reached England between 1652 and 1654. The English referred to the drink in many different ways such as the ‘China drink’, tee, tcha, tay, and chaw.  I remember hearing my grandmother ask for a ‘nice cup of cha’ when I was a child.  

At first tea was very expensive and it was thought of as a drink reserved for Royalty. In a sense they were right as it was in fact royalty that had the biggest tea drinking influence on England.  Charles II had grown up in Holland, the tea capital of Europe at the time, and his wife Catherine was the Portuguese Princess of Braganza.  Both had grown up drinking tea and it was the norm for them.  You can imagine those of high society who wanted to impress their new rulers would be quick to take on this new drink of royalty.


By 1650 the Dutch were actively involved in trade throughout the Western world. A Dutch gentleman called Peter Stuyvesant was the first to bring tea to America.  He introduced tea to the colonists in the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam (later re-named New York by the English).

America’s tea history saw a lot of drama.  In 1773 A.D. a group of Massachusetts colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians boarded three British tea ships in Boston Harbor and dumped 342 chests of tea into the harbor as a protest against British Parliament’s Tea Act of 1773.  The act was designed to help out the East India Company by lowering tea tax and granting it a virtual monopoly on the American tea trade which upset a lot of American tea traders at the time.  This midnight raid was popularly known as the “Boston Tea Party”.

American did however contribute other more positive chapters to the history of tea. For example, in 1904 Richard Blechynden created iced tea for the St. Louis World Fair and in 1908 Thomas Sullivan invented tea bags in New York sending tea to clients in silk bags.

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