Time-line for tea: Tea appreciation over the centuries. The most important years for what is the world’s most consumed drink after water.
2737 BC Tea first discovered by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, a herbalist as he drinks boiled water into which a tea leaf from an overhanging tree has fallen. He highly commends the resulting beverage.
1122 BC described in ‘Book of Songs’.
200 reached China, possibly from India where it is indigenous.
500 first cultivated in China.
618 Birth of Lu Yu who wrote his seminal ‘Classic of Tea’ (Cha Chang).
618 Tang dynasty introduces boiled tea.
641 Tang princess Wen Cheng wed Tibetan king Songtan Gambo enabling Horse Routes to be established from Sichuan and Yunnan provinces over the Himalayas to Tibet.
800 Buddhist monks introduce tea to Japan.
960 Song dynasty introduces powdered tea whisked with water.
1191 Myoan Eisai, a Zen Buddhist monk, brings the first seeds to Japan.
1368 Ming dynasty introduces infusion.
1550 Japanese ceremony (Chang-no-yu) codified by Sen No Rikyu according to Buddhist principles.
1550 Medicinal qualities first known to the Venetians.
1610 Chinese tea shipped from Java to Amsterdam by the Dutch.
1618 The first tea to Russia arrived as a gift to Tsar Alexis.
In the mid-17th century the Dutch were the first to bring tea to America when brought it to their colony of New Amsterdam (now New York) where it became very fashionable among the aristocracy.
1657 Thomas Garraway, England’s first tea merchant wrote “Tea … prevents and cures Agues, Surfets and Fevers, by infusing a fit quantity of the Leaf, thereby provoking a most gentle Vomit and breathing of the Pores”. In 1658 he placed the first advertisement for tea in England.
1661 Diarist to King Charles 2nd remarked: ‘I sent for a cup of tea (a China drink) of which I had never drunk before.’ Samuel Pepys, diary 25th September.
1662 A keen tea drinker the Portuguese princess Catherine de Braganza married King Charles 2nd bringing tea to the English court and starting its popularity amongst the aristocracy.
1689 first imported by England direct from China.
1689 A Russian trade agreement led to caravans of 200-300 camels from China in exchange for furs.
1721 East India Company given monopoly in the trade. This continued until 1837.
1773 The Boston Tea Party sparked American Independence as the colony rebelled at paying taxes on tea to the British Government.
1800 English afternoon tea was introduced by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford as a reviver in the long gap between lunch and dinner. It soon became a great social tradition.
1823 A Scot, Robert Bruce discovered wild tea in upper Assam, India.
1830 Tea first cultivated tea in Assam, India.
1830 The famous recipe of tea flavoured with oil of bergamot was given to the 2nd Earl Grey. This is now the world’s favourite scented tea.
1838 The first shipment of Indian teas to London.
1848 Britain send a spy, Robert Fortune, to Fujian Province, China to discover how tea was made.
1850 China began to loose its monopoly of the international trade as it began to be planted by the British in its colonies.
1850 became the most popular drink in England, replacing beer.
1854 The clipper ‘Champion of the Seas’ was the fastest sailing ship ever. It sailed 465 miles in one day.
1859 Start of cultivation in Darjeeling, India using tea seed originating from China.
1867 first planted in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) after suffering a blight throughout its coffee plantations.
1869 Opening of the Suez canal brought an end to the era of the tea clipper races and cheaper Indian teas to the British market.
1869 The famous tea clipper, the Cutty Sark is launched. This is now the world’s last surviving clipper and is in dry dock at Greenwich, London.
1871 The last of the tea races by clipper ship.
1903 The Trans-Siberian railway opened, enabling tea to be transported direct to Russia in 3-4 days rather than six months by caravan.
1904 Invention of teabag by the American, Thomas Sullivan who sent out samples in silk bags which customers found convenient.
1955 Teabags brought to the UK market.
2000 Opening of Grey’s Teas to bring wider appreciation of loose leaf orthodox teas grown in areas of the world renown for the distinctive qualities of their teas!
See our page on the History of Tea.