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The history of tea
Tea is given many origins. Many histories and legends explain its origin sometimes in a very lyrical way. We invite you on a journey through China, Japan and eventually Europe.
Tea in China
About 4700 years ago, approx. 2737 B.C., the legend goes that the great Chinese emperor Shen Nung was wandering in his garden, a cup of hot water in his hand. All of a sudden, there was a light wind and leaves of a nearby wild tea plant fell into his cup. The emperor was surprised by the delightful scent, so he tasted the water and fell refreshed and awake. The tea tree and the preparation of tea were discovered! Shen Nung was regarded as one of the three yellow emperors. They were considered to be gods who lived as men to bring knowledge to the humankind. Shen Nung was supposedly the founder of traditional chinese medicine and additionally brought the knowledge about cereals or grains, such as millet, soy, wheat and rice into the country and was therefore called the "heavenly man of the land". The first emperor, Fu Shi, introduced the knowledge about Yin and Yang, the second, Huang Ti, taught acupuncture. Shen Nung is often cited: "Tea awakens the good spirit and the wise thought. It sharpens the mind. If you are feeling low, it will stimulate you."
The japanese origin of tea
Bodhidarma, Buddhist monk and third son of the Indian kind Kaisawo, had made a vow to meditate for many years without sleep next to a cliff around 519 AD. One night, fatigue came over him and he fell asleep. Angry about his weakness, he took a knife, cut off his eyelids and threw them away. The next morning, the eyelids had taken root into the soil and two evergreen tee plants grew from them. Bodhidarma tasted the leaves from this plant and felt alert and strengthened, so that he could resist the fatigue. The characters of "Cha" are still the same for tea, as well as for eyelid in Japanese.
About 801 AD, Buddhist monks, Saicho, who was the founder of the Tendai sect, and Kukai, were said to have smuggled the first tea seeds from China to Japan. Saicho planted the first tea tree in Sakamato, near Kyoto. In 1168 AD the tea plant experienced another boom, when the priest Eisai, founder of the Zen sect, also brought tea seeds from China and planted them near Fukuoaka, in Kyushu. Today´s some plantations in Uji, near Kyoto, can be traced back to these original seeds.
The Buddhist state priest Muso Kokushi, who is considered to be the father of the tea ceremony, is known to have set the rules for the famous Japanese tea ceremony called Chanoyu, literally "hot tea water" . In 1564 AD, the rules were written down by the well known tea master Sen no Rikyu. He wrote them on the wall in the waiting area of the first Japanese tea house in Higashiyama near Kyoto. These rules have more or less remained unchanged since then. The participant has to be in a certain state of mind based on values of modesty, serenity, respect and inner harmony. The tea house called Sukiya is kept simple. The ceremony lasts up to four hours and has a goal of freeing the mind from any hardship.
Europe discovers tea
The first crates of chinese tea were brought to Europe, by the Dutch East India Company in 1610. The name tea comes from the chinese "Tai" and was adopted by the Europeans. Tea in English, thé in French, Tee in german as examples. The tea, which was carried over the Silk Road from China to Russia was called "Cha". People started soon to drink tea, not only in the Netherlands but as well in Germany and France. In 1669, a british company started in the tea trade, the British East India Company was formed. This company, through lobbying with the Crown, managed to get a monopoly on the trade with China. It was probably one of the first corporations, in the modern sense of the word, renowned for its fleet of ships and for its somewhat ruthless business practices, even for this time's standards. This company existed until 1833.
The tea imported from China had to follow strict export regulations, the goods had to be paid for in silver coins. Chinese goods were sought after in Europe but the opposite was not true. Most of the trade in England being done in gold, it was difficult for the merchants to avail of enough silver. From the mid-eigthteenth century, sought-after goods like silk, poccelain or tea, started to be traded against Opium that the British merchants were smuggling from India. The chinese emperors, angry of seeing more and more of his citizens becoming addicted to Opium tried to stop this and so began the first opium war, when the Chinese government tried to stop the entry of British opium (1839-1842). One result of this war was a rough island to be ceded to the British Empire. This is how Hong-Kong was born. By then, Britain had already started to plant tea in several colonies (India, Ceylon, Africa). These plantations started soon to prosper. To learn the science of tea making, a spy in the name of Robert Fortune went to China to learn about the secret of fermentation and transformation of the tea. To suit the taste of most europeans and to make a tea product easier to transport, this new production has been since then mostly focused on black tea.