Where did it all begin?

To many of us Tea represents our colonial heritage and something synonymous to the British Empire however its origins begin in the far reaching realms of China.
Legend has it that over five thousand years ago, Emperor Shen Nong was boiling some water when a few leaves from a nearby tea tree fell into it. He loved the taste of the resulting drink so much that he introduced it within the confines of his court and so the beginnings of tea were born.
It isn’t quite clear how true this legend is, since there are simply no written sources dating that far back into Chinese history. In fact, the earliest material evidence of tea consumption is a tea container that was discovered in a tomb built during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).
More traces of tea were found in the 4th century settlements around the valley of the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River but it wasn't until the Tang Dynasty (616-906 AD) that tea drinking became an essential part of Chinese culture. Around this time, the Japanese Buddhist monks and ambassadors brought tea to Japan. The introduction of tea there had a profound effect on Japanese culture and greatly reshaped China and Japans farming, economy and traditions.
With tea solidified in China and Japan it was only a matter of time before this purist drink made its way to Europe. Ancient records show that Arabs were trading with tea as early as the 9th century but in Europe the trend didn’t gain momentum until much later. Tea was a very rare commodity at that time, since only Portuguese ship owners and missionaries were bringing it to Europe in small amounts.
It was then the Dutch who paved the way for the tea trend. In the 17th century the first major commercial shipments of tea started to arrive in Europe from China. At first given its refreshing and healthy connotations, the drink was afforded only among Dutch nobility and then it gradually spread throughout the European continent – first to France and later to Russia. Tea however became truly popular when it reached the British Empire when the British began to really seize the opportunity tea had to offer them.
The most intriguing factor of how tea really gained significant growth was when Catherine of Braganza a Portuguese princess married Charles II. Catherine an avid tea drinker and new to the British royal scene made the consumption of tea to be popular amongst the British Royal family and high society and thus set the trend for many centuries to come as tea was seen as the beverage of the elite.
The growing demand was soon noted by the business community and The East India Company was the first to establish a significant tea trade with China. Even though the enterprise soon proved to be immensely profitable the British had reservations about strengthening China economically. The process of tea making was one of China’s most guarded secrets but the British spared no effort and were eventually able to procure the technology. Large-scale tea production was soon organized in India which was under British colonial rule at that time.
Once Britain possessed this elegant beauty conceived by the Chinese it was only a matter of time before it spread the globe. The British empires long reaching presence around the world allowed the tea trade and the consumption of tea to flourish, by now not just with the elite but with everyone within its reach.
Tea today continues to actively consume the market setting it to be the second most consumed beverage behind water. It is a part of our everyday lives and has been for generations from the aforementioned periods and then driving itself through the high tea society of the 18 and early 1900’s, its presence as the essential wartime beverage of the first and second world wars through to the good old fashioned afternoon tea gatherings of the 1950’s and 60’s.
In the 21st century tea hasn’t stopped growing yet finding resurgence in new ways with which it has evolved. The introduction of more flavors and its solidification of being a healthy alternative to other beverages have shown that tea truly is the majestic beverage of all whom consume it.