When Was Tea First Grown?
We do not know when the tea plant was first cultivated, but the earliest mention of it occurs in a Chinese dictionary, the Erh Ya, about the year 350. The cultivation of tea is believed to have begun in the province of Szechwan (Sichuan/Yunnan ) in central China.
From there it’s cultivation and use as a beverage spread throughout China and Japan under the patronage of Buddhist priests. Perhaps it was this religious connection which gave rise to the Japanese legend about the discovery of tea.
According to this story, tea first grew in China at a spot where the Buddhist saint Bodhidharma, who is said to have spent nine years in meditation before a wall, once fell asleep. He was said to have been so annoyed with himself when he awoke that he cut off his eyelids and threw them on the ground, where they took root and grew into a tea plant.
Tea in China was used as a medicinal drink. It was popularized as a recreational drink during the Chinese Tang dynasty, and tea drinking spread to other East Asian countries. Portuguese priests and merchants introduced it to the West during the 16th century.
During the 17th century, drinking tea became fashionable among Britons, who started large-scale production and commercialization of the plant in India to bypass a Chinese monopoly at that time.
Tea was brought to Europe by the Dutch via Java in 1610 and became increasing fashionable from the middle of the 17th Century. In England tea (pronounced tay) eventually began to oust coffee with the encouragement of the British East India Company who enjoyed a tea trade monopoly. India’s tea industry was founded in 1834 after Major Robert Bruce had found the plant growing in the north.
While Britain began to change from coffee to tea, America did the reverse after the Boston Tea Party of 1773 when the East India Company’s tea was thrown into the harbor as a protest against British taxation. Tea is drunk by about half the world’s population, but is second to coffee in commercial importance.