Thank you, Shen Nong!
If you’ve ever wondered what life without tea would be, a) we’re sure you have no idea, and b) we’re so glad we never have to find out. But, there was a time, long long ago, where tea didn’t exist. We’re sure many of you tea lovers already know this story, but for those of you who don’t – you’re in for your favorite history lesson yet!
Throwing it back to 2737 BC when the Chinese Emperor, Shen Nong, known as the Divine Cultivator and Divine Healer (we would totally be on board to bring back nicknames like that, just sayin’), discovered tea by accident.
One afternoon, Shen Nong was relaxing in his garden sipping boiled water (as we all do, duh). As he sat there contemplating his Imperial duties, a few dried leaves fell from a nearby tree into his cup of boiling water. The water started to change color and the cup started to emit a delicate aroma. Since he was curious, he decided to taste it, and found himself pleasantly surprised. He instructed his staff to take care of the plant so he could keep enjoying this discovery of his every day.
Today, the plant is known as Camellia sinensis, a cousin of the camellia bush – which we all know as the ‘tea plant.’ It is from this plant that we make most traditional caffeinated teas, including black tea, white tea, oolong tea, and green tea (so basically, 80% of teas).
Very quickly, tea consumption spread throughout the Chinese culture, reaching ever tier of society. The Chinese have always believed that tea calms the mind and improves mental health and overall health; and for hundreds of years, the purpose of tea was solely medicinal and/or spiritual.
Fast forward a couple hundred years, to when the English started drinking tea. Catherine of Brogans, Portuguese by birth, married King Charles II – and asked for cup of tea when she arrived to Portsmouth, England. She brought with her her tea drinking habit, and transported large chests of tea with her wherever she went. In her time, tea was extremely costly, around $100 per pound – meaning it was only enjoyed by the wealthy, aristocrats, or royals.
The English used to have two daily meals, until tea came oolong (see what we did there?). Breakfast was early in the morning, and dinner at around 7:30pm. For obvious reasons, people wanted a third meal in between both of these, to help them get through the day. (How did they do it? We personally don’t know, since we basically eat every 3 hours around here.)
A third meal was introduced, and it was lighter than breakfast and dinner. This third meal is what we now call — you guessed it — lunch! However, this left the afternoon without any refreshments, thus a gap in the daily affairs of the royal and the rich. In 1840, Anna Maria, the 7th Dutchess of Bedford created the Afternoon Tea experience.
She was known as a trendsetter in high society, and she would invite her friends to join her for an afternoon meal at around 4:00pm, at her Beloit Castle Estate. Along with tea, small cakes, sandwiches, and sweets were served.
Queen Mary also became extremely fond of tea, and 4:00pm easily became her favorite time of the day. She insisted on measuring the right amount of tea leaves and adding them to the teapot to ensure the perfect pot of tea. She counted the minutes it brewed for, and then allowed the footman to pour into the fine china teacups of her guests.
Afternoon Tea became a social event, primarily enjoyed by ladies who gathered to gossip, discuss latest fashion trends, and to be seen in the right places, at the right times, and with the right company.
Now, Afternoon Tea is enjoyed in many parts of the world, with tremendous popularity among all classes of society. It’s one of the best ways to spend time with family, friends, and business associates. It’s basically the perfect social occasion, if you ask us.
… and that’s the tea on the history of tea.