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Written by: Suong Tran and Xiaoqing Yang-Pyydysmäki

History of tea development

“Tea” and its different spellings and pronunciations all over the world are derived from the same origin “Te”, this pronunciation means tea in the local dialect of Xiamen, China. The word “cha” used in Mandarin later also accepted by the world.

In China, tea drinking culture has a history of thousand years, and the true origin has been unclearly covered with legendary stories. The most famous one is a legend about Shennong occasionally discovered tea. One day, Shennong was sitting in his garden, and a leaf on the tea tree was blown up by the wind and fell into his cup. As a result, he found that the drink was not only delicious, but also refreshing. Since then, Shennong discovered the medicinal properties of tea.

Another legend tells that in Tang dynasty, the Buddhist Bodhidharma fell asleep in the end of his nine- year long meditation. He got frustrated about his weakness, then he cut and threw his eyelids on the ground to make himself sober. After that, the tea leaves that grew out of the place where his eyelids.

Regardless of the legend, it is difficult to trace the original roots of tea. Tea trees are likely to originate in areas near southwest China, Tibet, north Burma, and northeast India. Businessmen may travel frequently in these areas and people chewing medicinal tea for medicine.

In Eastern Han dynastry (220 AD), Hua Tuo who is considered as divine physician in China mentioned in his medical book Shi Lun , “The taste of tea is bitter. After drinking, it can open up people’s thinking.” This is the first record in history about the medical value of tea.

Till Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), tea became widely popular. The government’s tax on tea further proves that this beverage is been recognized as China’s national drink at that time. A monk Lu Yu wrote “The Classic of Tea” which is the first know monograph on tea in the worldwide. He summarized the processes and tools of tea cultivation, picking, production, identification, cooking, as well as the benefits of drinking tea. He also collected historical materials related to tea history which have been master pieces of tea knowledge during that time. Teas were mainly produced as tea bricks which tea leaves were steamed, pounded and shaped into brick forms.

The prevalence of Buddhism also played a role in the spreading of tea. During the Tang Dynasty, Buddhism prevailed, the rulers provided large amounts of tea to the monasteries. Buddhist monks often sit in meditation and had a fast of “don’t eat after noon”. They practiced by drinking tea. It can be seen that tea has been integrated into the daily life of monks. When monks went to preach, they brought tea to the nearby countries, like Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

Song dynasty (960 – 1279 AD) can be described as the golden age of Chinese tea culture. At that time, the tea workers had to go to the mountains to pick tea in the early morning as people think that the dew is not dry in the morning, and the tea buds are plump. The tea buds are invaded by sunshine after the sun comes out, and the color of the leaves is not bright enough after washing with water. After tea picking and going down the mountain, fresh tea leaves should be carefully selected, and the small buds, medium buds, purple buds, lilies, and other parts should be distinguished one by one.

High-quality tea buds have to go through multiple processes to remove bitter substances. Then the cakes are made with moulds and dried on skewers to become the popular Tuan tea in the Tang and Song dynasties. Tuan Tea is a highly praised imperial product.

Meanwhile, loose tea was popular in the folk. Sencha and whisk methods became the mainstream of tea brewing at that time. Sencha, grind the tea cakes into powder, and then place it in water and stir until it boils. It was later improved to use a teapot and hot water for brewing. Whisk method is to mix the ground tea powder with a small amount of boiled water in the teacup in advance to make a uniform tea paste, then add the boiled water while slowly stirring it with a teaspoon or teacup. The current matcha ceremony in Japan is also slowly evolving on the basis of the method of whisking tea.

During the Yuan and Ming Dynasties (13th – 17th centries), the processing of tea has changed. Roast and fry first to keep the tea green. Later the process changes in the order of frying and fermentation prompted the emergence of oolong tea. Yellow tea was also discovered occasionally during the production of green tea. With the advancement of technology, loose tea gradually replaced the earlier traditions of tea cake and tea powder, which was accepted by the royal family and gradually became the mainstream.

In 12th centry, Marco Polo mentioned his discovery of tea in his travel books about East. Tea entered Europe in the early 17th century. A Portuguese missionary brought tea from China to Europe during his travels in China, but it was not until 1610 that Dutch merchants entered China for real tea trading. That year, the first batch of Japanese and Chinese tea arrived in Europe by chartering ships of the British East India Company. As Europeans still like the taste of coffee most. At that time, tea was only popular among aristocratic circles.

Tea Business

By the early 1700s, the British East India Company had established its dominant trading position and would continue to monopolize the tea trade with China. In the middle of 18th centre, China was still the main source of tea for Western demand till the year 1847, the British government began to develop a large number of tea plantations in India which ended the dependence of tea growing in China. American sailing ships directly imported tea from China since the 1850s.

With the popularity of tea drinks, new tea traditions are beginning to develop in various countries. The original tea bags were handmade, and the patent for tea bags existed as early as 1903. Ice tea originated in the United States. Today, iced tea accounts for about 80% of the total tea market sales in US.

In UK, 80% people drink tea every day, and tea consumption accounts for about half of the total consumption of various beverages. The United Kingdom does not produce tea, and the per capita consumption of tea ranks first in the world. Therefore, the import volume of tea also has long been ranked first in the world.

Tea culture and traditions in different countries

There are many interesting tea drinking cultures in the world, existing under multivarious forms. Imagine you are sitting enjoying a cup of tea in the morning in front of your laptop screen. Suddenly, when you look at the hot cup of tea in your hand, you are curious to find out what is happening in countries around the world in their tea drinking culture. Do they drink tea with milk? Or do they enjoy morning tea like you do? Luckily you have your laptop right in front of you to help you ease your curiosity. You start to search for the key words: tea culture all over the world and there are hundreds of findings that can tell you about it.

Besides the world-famous tea ceremony cultures of China and Japan, other countries have also flourished their tea culture in very unique and distinctive ways. Here are some interesting examples of how tea culture integrates into indigenous cultures around the world.

Forget about adding milk to tea. In Tibet, an autonomous region within China, people boil a brick of Pemagul black tea for hours and then add milk, salt, and yak butter to create a mixture like soup. This special tea is believed to help people enhance health and feel comfortable in the cold weather.

“The first glass is as gentle as life, the second is as strong as love, the third is as bitter as death.” is the idiom used by Moroccan people to describe their feeling when enjoying the different essence layers of tea flavours. Tea which is mixed with mint leaves is a customary blend in Morocco and it is usually served for guests for every 3 times refilling. However, the boldness of tea flavours will not fade, but increases more after every time refilling. Keep in mind that refusing the serving of teacup is considered to be very rude by the host.

Yerba mate, “the drink of the gods,” is a staple of Argentinian life. This herbal tea has its own unique blend recipe. This tea is brewed in a small pot, or dried calabaza gourd which is attached with a straw called a bombilla. Everyone shares tea within a circle showing their bond in that relationship. Refusing the drink by saying ‘thank you’ or stirring the brew with the bombilla is a serious insult. The host in that case will think you doubt his brewing skill.

In Russia, Zavarka is a very strong concentrated tea brewed in a small metal container called a samovar. This tea then is served in big mugs and because it is so strong that the tea drinkers need to add more hot water in as their wish before taking. Zavarka is served with milk and sugar, as well as a snack. Serving it without cookies, crackers or some other munchable is considered extremely rude.

In Iran, people prefer to drink very strong tea. Interestingly to reduce the bitterness of tea, they usually place the sugar cubes between front teeth before sucking the tea in their mouth. A kettle of tea is placed on the stove for whole day to serve guests constantly.

In Malaysia, an Asian country, people like to drink black tea with sugar, and condensed milk. This signature brew is called teh tarik or “pulled tea”. The brewer makes the foam texture for tea by pouring back and forth the drink from one cup to another. Tea drinkers can also enjoy seeing the tea makers demonstrate their special skills without a drop being lost. Their movement is like elaborate and energetic dances.

How interesting and diverse the tea cultures around the world are! A cup of tea, quintessence of human culture does not contain only many good flavours, a joy of peace, but also can elicit and deliver special experience to human being.

Tea and lifestyle

Many of us may get familiar with the idiom: we are what we eat. It means that consuming the food is totally a choice, of being healthy or not and it defines the person or state you want to become based on your choice. That idiom has been extended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through their campaign into: You are what you drink, to encourage people to drink more water.  Everyone on the earth acknowledges well the importance and benefits of drinking enough. The options can be water, tea, or coffee, etc. However, choosing the healthy options of beverage is what matters. In Finland, people consume more coffee (76%) than tea (36%) while soft drink consumption is less than coffee, but higher than tea (42%). It happens even same in UK, the origin country of British tea culture when coffee consumption is higher than tea (64% versus 63%) in the year 2020. However, when we rank those above beverages based on its health benefit to consumers, the order is surely: tea, coffee, and soft drink, from the healthiest to less healthy. Coffee itself can bring some health benefits, however, at the same time it contains a lot of caffeine which can harm to the health when the consumption exceeds the limit. Besides, soft drink is never a choice of healthy being, since it contains a lot of sugar and chemical ingredients. People who choose coffee for their daily basis over tea because they want to pump energy into the body, improve productivity and brain function from the high caffeine level of coffee. There is actually a research about what kind of personality a person has when they like coffee, by a clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula, who conducted an observational study of 1,000 coffee drinkers. For example, one of his discoveries was that the black coffee consumers are old school and purist personality traits while latte drinkers are comfort seekers, people pleasers, or like to soften the bitterness of life (like of the coffee), etc. The coffee contains extremely attractive flavors, but often, tea is the most recommended choice because of the health benefits it brings. In the contrary to coffee drinkers, people who like to drink tea has the tendency to look for the balancing in their life.

Obviously when a person has good health, they will also have the good well-being. For example, one of the health benefits of tea has been mentioned in a study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (JACM). The study showed that green tea leaves contain polyphenols, which can activate the enzyme GSH-Px. This means that green tea can activate the detoxifying system in a healthy person with no adverse effects. Beyond the antioxidant properties of polyphenols, green tea provides also other health benefits like: metabolism boosting. The active ingredients present in green tea promote the breakdown of glucose and fat, thereby leading to weight loss.  Drinking 2-3 cups of tea per day has been linked to a reduced risk of early death, heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

It is so clear that a tea drinking habit can unveil about one person’s characteristics and lifestyle. In addition, different types of people choose different types of tea. That tells that not only one person’s personality defines their favourite tea, but also that the tea drinking habit may make the change on their personality traits. A study has shown that tea drinkers are more determined, less pessimistic, and more persistent.

If green tea lovers are health-conscious, calm, and determined people, black tea lovers are strong and determined people. Active people choose green tea to boost their energy and reach their fitness and weight loss goals faster, but black tea is often the choice of busy and goal-oriented people who are conscious of their health too. Stylish, modern, trend-conscious, and food-loving people are absolutely bubble tea lovers. However, oolong tea is for those who are delicate and patient because Oolong tea lover can discover the complex flavour layers like light, airy, intense and rich, but sometimes very bitter. What about those who love flower tea? Yes, they are obviously very sophisticated and stylish. Love to see the beauty of flowers express their passion for the beauty of life. In addition, they are people who love pampering, independence, and self-control. Especially, chamomile herbal tea is beneficial for those feeling anxious or stressed. Furthermore, Dark Pu’erh is an expensive tea option for drinkers who love quality, value, and attention to detail. Spiced teas like masala chai, ginger tea, or other spice blends are favoured by warm, enthusiastic, and daring people.

The study also found that people who prefer loose tea over tea bags are introverts, be open-minded, persistent, and open to leaning. To make a perfect cup of tea, tea drinkers must have extra patience, concentration, effort, as well as attention to details and tea-making rules. At the same time making tea, these people can also find relaxation in being alone. On the other hand, iced tea, bubble tea, and spiced teas are more popular with tea drinkers who tend to be outgoing and communicative.

Moreover, the people who choose to drink loose tea have more the environment and sustainability concern than people who choose tea bags for their convenience. It is obvious that the loose tea is more quality than the tea bags which contain tea as dust because these dusty tea bag can lose its natural flavours and vitamins during the processing. However, the tea bags with loose tea inside is an exception. More and more companies is aiming to adding more quality options for customers, and the loose tea bag is their solution. However, the fact is that most of the tea bag products on the market now contain plastics. The plastic used in tea bags is polypropylene. That means people should not throw them in the bio trash cans because then they will be processed to use for plant fertilization. Some tea brand is more sustainable to choose the tea bag which its materials are plant based like corn-starch. Therefore, the people who prefer the tea products which packaging are eco-friendly and still convenient to use, can choose the loose tea bags option. Living healthy and consuming smartly is a trendy choice for modern people.

Interesting facts

  • The world’s first tea production is India, not China.
  • In China, people take different tea in different seasons according to the property of tea types.
    • Spring – scented tea and single cluster
    • Summer – green tea and tieguanyin, or 3-5 years pu-er
    • Autumn – oolong
    • Winter – black tea and cooked pu-er
  • Many highly fermented teas, such as black tea and cooked Pu’er, have very little caffeine left.
  • On the surface, black tea and green tea, these two types of tea, seem not to be much different, but from the point of view of the production process, black tea is mostly fermented tea, while green tea is not.
  • Tea foam can help digesting. For tea, it is better if the tea foam is clean and rich when making tea. This phenomenon indicates that the tea is rich in endoplasm, which is undoubtedly beneficial to the human body. But it may also be caused by impurities in the dry tea, so choose the quality tea leaves!
  • In many Asian countries, the water from the first tea brewing will be dumped and not drunk as it’s seen as washing round.
  • The antioxidant test confirmed that two cups of black tea, its antioxidant function is equivalent to a bottle of red wine, 7 glasses of fresh orange juice, and 20 glasses of apple juice.
  • Green tea and black tea has an anti-inflammatory effect, and some skin care products use its extract to achieve the effect of acne. But before using it, check whether you will be allergic to it.
  • The Japanese government launched a two-phase plan to “drink tea to prevent cancers for the whole nation” in 1999 found that cancer female patients who have the habit of drinking tea have the onset of about 7 years later. The delay time for men is 3.2 years.
  • Epidemiological studies conducted in Japan have shown that drinking 10 small cups of tea a day can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in men by 42% compared with drinking less than three cups a day, and women can reduce it by 18%.
  • Japanese tea ceremony, with the four characters of “harmony, respect, purity, and solitude”, has become a cultural and artistic activity that integrates religion, philosophy, ethics, and aesthetics. The Japanese tea ceremony has cumbersome rules, such as the tea leaves must be finely ground, the tea utensils must be cleaned, and the flower arrangement must be selected according to the season and the reputation, status, generation, age and cultural education of the guests. The host’s movements must be standardized and agile, with a dance-like sense of rhythm and elegance, as well as being accurate. All these show respect for the guests and embody the spirit of “harmony and respect”.
  • In the northern part of Thailand, bordering Yunnan, China, people here have a custom of eating pickled tea. The method is the same as that of making pickled tea from ethnic minorities in Yunnan, China. It is usually pickled in the rainy season. Pickled tea is actually a dish. When you eat it, mix it with spices and put it in your mouth to chew. Because of the hot climate and humid air here, pickled vegetables are fragrant and cool when used, so pickled tea has become a home-cooked dish that has been passed down from generation to generation.
  • All genuine teas are derived from the Camellia Sinensis plant, an evergreen shrub native to Asia whose leaves and buds are used to make tea. There are four main types of tea namely black, green, white and oolong. The leaves of these tea plants are processed after harvest to create different types of tea using different processes.
  • According to popular belief, chamomile tea should not be drunk by pregnant women. Chamomile tea has been used to help with insomnia and other sleep disorders for centuries. Popular in many parts of Europe, it is also used to soothe stomach flu, ulcers, migraines, and menstrual cramps.
  • Spicy milky tea from India called chai usually contains spices like nutmeg and is very delicious.
  • Earl Gray Tea, a citrus-flavoured tea, has a distinctive flavour from the extract of Bergamot orange. It is really a cross between the sweet lemon and the bitter orange. Bergamot oranges are most grown in Reggio, in Calabria, Italy. There are different types of Earl Gray tea. It can be used as a flavouring in many different things, such as cakes and savoury sauces.
  • Cinnamon used to make herbal tea has a wonderful aroma and spicy taste and comes from the bark of the tree. Cinnamon tea has been drunk for a very long time in Southeast Asia. It is said to improve circulation, relieve cold symptoms, relieve colic and relieve menstrual cramps.
  • The root of the Kava plant, native to the islands of Polynesia, is used to make a wonderfully calming herbal tea. Kava root has a very bitter taste. It is used to relieve stress and help with insomnia. This herbal tea should not be used more than three times a week and is intended for healthy adults only. Excessive use can cause serious liver damage.
  • Ginseng has been used for centuries in China to make a refreshing, healthy tea. It is said to improve thinking, accelerate reaction times, impart resistance to a variety of diseases, as well as improve circulation.
  • Drinking fennel tea has been popular in the Mediterranean regions for thousands of years. It is said to soothe stomach ailments, improve eyesight, lower cholesterol levels, and boost the immune system. Pregnant women should not drink fennel tea as it can act as a uterine stimulant and drinking too much fennel tea can cause hallucinations and muscle cramps. As with most herbal teas, important to drink in moderation.
  • Peppermint tea is often drunk for its soothing effects on the digestive tract. This is one of the few herbal teas that can be drunk hot or with ice. Peppermint tea was used by the ancient Greeks to relieve nausea and vomiting and believed it helped dissolve gallstones. It is said to soothe and relieve muscle aches and chronic pain. People with chronic heartburn should avoid this herbal tea as it can make the problem worse.
  • Sakurayu is a delightful Japanese herbal tea made from steeped cherry blossoms. The cherry blossoms are soaked in plum vinegar and salt, then they are dried. When soaked in hot water, the flowers open up and float to the surface. It has a salty taste and is said to detoxify the body, boost immunity and boost the sexual desire.
  • Dandelion as a weed, can be used to make a wonderful herbal tea. Dandelion tea is taken as a digestive aid, and is believed by many to purify the blood, reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and detoxify the body. Anyone taking anticoagulants, or who have an allergy to ragweed should however not drink this herbal tea.
  • Anise tea is used in the treatment of colds and other respiratory ailments. It is considered an expectorant and loosens phlegm in the throat and lungs. It has been used for thousands of years to soothe an upset stomach and relieve bloating. Since it can cause or worsen inflammatory skin conditions such as rosacea and acne, anise tea should be used very carefully.
  • Robert Fortune can be said to have shipped tea from China to India in 1848 to help the British Empire. He really wanted to grow tea in India, because they wanted to sell it to India for a profit. Although his mission was successful, the trees native to the Himalayas in India were more successful than those that Fortune brought from China and were used instead by the British.
  • Chai tea is a popular drink in India and around the world, but the spice part of the tea is Karha. Karha of Chai tea can include many different ingredients. Cardamom is usually the dominant flavour, but cinnamon, anise, ginger, and cloves are also used. Generally, milk and water are boiled together, then black tea leaves are added, followed by spices.
  • Oolong tea is a much-loved tea, but oolong means black dragon when translated from Mandarin into English. Plants need to be exposed to the sun to wilt and then oxidize. Because the amount of sunlight and oxidation can vary, there can be many different types of oolong tea and many different tea flavours.
  • Sleepytime Tea is a popular drink produced by Celestial Seasonings, but the special thing is that it does not contain tea leaves. It is taken in the usual way and does not contain caffeine. The name Sleepytime takes its name from valerian, a sedative, found in tea.
  • After being prepared and boiled, white tea will turn yellow. White tea is the healthiest of the teas that come from Camellia sinensis. The difference comes in the process needed to create the teas. White tea is made when the leaves and buds of the plant wilt in sunlight to produce a bright colour. Black tea is oxidized to give it a dark colour. Green tea is simply the natural leaf of the Camellia sinensis plant.



History of tea


Lu Yu


Chinese tea history in brief


The world of caffeine


World tea cultures


Everything Stops for Tea


10 Health Benefits of Tea for a New Lifestyle


Design Your Life: Drink Loose Leaf Tea


13 best plastic-free tea bags to make your brew better for the planet


What Does Your Coffee Reveal about You?


What does your favorite tea say about you?


15 Tea Traditions From Around the World


11 Wonderful Tea Traditions around the World


How Does Tea Culture Vary Around The World?


Tea Culture Across the World: An Important Business Skill


Little facts about tea


The polyphenolic content of fruit and vegetables and their antioxidant activities: what does a serving constitute?. Paganga et al., Free radical research , volume 30, Feburary 1999.

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