History of Tea

Although Europeans, and particularly the British, have been drinking tea for more than 350 years, tea was a known beverage in Asia as far back as 2000 BC. Our brief history of tea shows how it became the world’s favourite drink, refreshing millions everywhere.

The first cup was an accident…

Chinese mythology says that in 2737 BC, the Chinese Emperor, scholar and herbalist, Shen Nung, discovered a refreshing new drink when a leaf from the tree under which he rested dropped into his can of boiling water.

Tea gets its name

In the Tang Dynasty (618 AD – 906 AD), tea became China’s national drink and the word ‘cha’ was used to describe tea. The modern term ‘tea’ derives from early Chinese dialect words – such as ‘Tchai’, ‘Cha’ and ‘Tay’ – used to describe both the beverage and the leaf.

Tea drinking catches on

Indian and Japanese folklore credits the popularisation of tea to Bodhidharma, the devout Buddhist priest who founded Zen Buddhism. Legend tells of how he dispelled tiredness by chewing a few leaves from a tea bush nearby. Arabs first mentioned tea outside China and Japan in 850 AD and were responsible for introducing it to Europe. However, the Portuguese and Dutch also claim credit for bringing tea and tea drinking to Europe. With the advent of sea routes to China around 1515, Portuguese missionaries to the East brought tea back, while sailors encouraged Dutch merchants to start trading in tea. From the early 17th Century, the trade flourished to France, Holland and the Baltic, with England only entering the market in mid- to late 17th Century with the establishment of the East India Company.

The birth of Iranian Tea

The history of tea culture in Iran started at the end of the 15th century. Before that coffee was the main beverage in Iran. However, most of the coffee producing countries were located far from Iran, making shipping very difficult. With a major tea producing country, China, located on a nearby trading path, “the silk road”, and the shipping of tea was much easier. That was a main reason why tea became much popular in Iran. As a result, the demand for tea grew, and more tea needed to be imported to match Iran’s consumption.

Iran failed in their first attempt to cultivate tea in their own country in 1882 with seeds from India. In 1899 Prince Mohammad Mirza known as “Kashef Al Saltaneh” who was born in Lahijan, imported Indian tea and started its cultivation in Lahijan. Kashef, who was the first mayor of Tehran and an Iranian ambassador to India under British rule, knew that the British would not allow him to learn about the secrets of tea production, as it was their biggest business in India at the time. So being fluent in French, the prince pretended to be a French laborer and started to work in the tea plantations and factories to learn how to produce.