The origin and consumption of tea on a large scale is what unites various nations on the context of their beverage consumption, but what individualizes them, is the various practices associated with tea, which, are exclusive to each country and have popularized as well as modernized since decades. This article focuses on 4 extremely different and major countries of the world and their exclusive ways of embracing the beverage. They consume tea and popularize it in such a varied way that it seems like an all new beverage at every instance.
The popular and conventional definitions, justify Tea, as a beverage produced by steeping young leaves and buds of the tea plant in water, the scientific term for this plant is Camellia Sinensis. Two principal varieties that are used are the small-leaved China plant and the large-leaved Assam plant. There are various hybrids of these two varieties that are also grown. The leaves may be fermented or left unfermented. In tea manufacture the leaf goes through some or all of the stages of withering, rolling, fermentation, and drying. But tea is much more than a beverage to mankind- it is the comfort drink for many people across the globe. With its distinct flavor and aroma, it rejuvenates the senses and accompanies us in our mornings, events, gatherings, solitude and seasons. This blog is written in an attempt to trace the origin, history and popular practices revolving around this relaxing and de-stressing beverage, across the globe.
Tea’s origin story is infused with a blend of myth and fact and colored by ancient concepts of spirituality and philosophy.
According to the Chinese legend, tea’s origin takes us to 2737 B.C.E. when a tea leaf accidentally fell into the boiling water. The infused water was then drunk by the then Emperor Shen Nong, who was also a skilled scientist. He was so pleasantly impressed by the flavor of it that he researched on the plant further and eventually discovered tea’s medicinal properties and it’s eligibility to become a beverage.
The period of the Tang Dynasty in China is often referred to as the classic age of tea. The consumption of tea during this era increased so much that the government imposed a tax on it and eventually it became the national drink of China.
The frequent travels of traders, missionaries, and explorers from Europe to the Orient, exposed them to the budding tea traditions in China and Japan. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tea growing had spread to Russian Georgia. The Brick-tea and loose tea were brought to Russia from Northern China. In 1869, the opening of the Suez Canal made shipping of tea to Russia more profitable and prompt. A very distinct practice in the Russian tea culture is the Samovar. The Samovar is a heated metal container traditionally used to heat and boil water in Russia, so after the exposure to tea, samovars were built with a ring-shaped attachment around the chimney to hold and heat a teapot filled with tea concentrate. The teapot is used to brew a strong concentrate of tea which, is then served by diluting it with boiling water from the main container, usually at water: tea ratio of 10:1, although tastes vary accordingly.
The functioning and purpose of a samovar are similar to that of an electric water boiler, although traditionally coal was used as fuel for heating. Samovars are typically crafted out of plain iron, copper, polished brass, bronze, silver, gold, tin, or nickel. A typical samovar consists of a body, base and chimney, cover and steam vent, handles, tap and key, crown and ring, chimney extension and cap, drip-bowl, and teapot.
France, the country of romance, the first beverage that comes to our mind hearing the name of France is wine, which, is followed by many other beverages but, tea? Tea is not something that seems relatable to France right? But did you know the French have been tea drinkers for centuries? It is believed that the French were introduced to tea- much before the British. The Dutch East India Company carried the first consignment of Chinese tea to Europe in 1610. The popularity of tea rapidly spread to cities including Amsterdam, Paris, and London, although its high price made this beverage exclusive for the royal or aristocratic people of the society. Tea was initially used as a form of medicine in France Louis XIV reportedly drank tea avidly to help with his gout. Unlike the British, tea didn’t trickle down to the public it remained a practice in homes of the elite. And so, tea was seen as a thing of luxury. When the divide between the rich and the poor grew in the 17th century, the popularity of a cup of tea vanished. However, tea drinking didn’t disappear completely.
Companies like Mariage Frères, founded in 1854 were, selling tea and vanilla to hotels, fine food stores and the aristocracy. Tea drinking also started to penetrate into French homes, where people started drinking it with milk and sugar. French tea has traditionally always been served in the afternoon which, is usually accompanied by delicious and exclusive pastries, the art of which has been mastered by the French. In order to popularize the custom of drinking tea, a huge assortment of pastries that were used as an accompaniment. Various pastries were introduced exclusively for the tea time and this practice still prevails successfully in France.
The history of tea drinking in India dates back to 750 BC. Tea in India was initially grown in the North Eastern regions and the Nilgiri Hills. Having evolved since those early days, tea drinking in India has now come a long way. Today this nation is proud to be one of the largest tea producers in the world. According to a very interesting legend, the history of tea drinking in India began with a saintly Buddhist monk about almost 2000 years ago. It is believed that during his meditations when he almost was about to fall asleep, he took some leaves from a nearby bush and began chewing them, these leaves revived him and enabled him to stay awake as he chewed on them whenever he felt drowsy, these were later recognized to be wild tea leaves. Since that time, different varieties of tea have emerged; the most famous among them is the Darjeeling and Assam tea.
The commercial production of tea in India was started by the British East India Company. First thought of as the drink of the Royals, tea has now become the favorite of the common man as India leads the world in tea drinking. From the humble roadside tea stalls to classy restaurants and corporate offices, tea is the most easily available and widely consumed beverage in India. More than the term tea, “chai” is the word that every Indian relates to. Not only is this term related to the language but to taste also, as the Indians were very popular for their usage and availability of a wide range of spices, they tried some of their spice knowledge with Tea. Tea experts and historians say that the development happened much later, by travelers and traders mostly hailing from Bengal and Gujarat, who had better access to spices and good quality milk. The spices were added to give milk a flavor, this concoction was more of a post 11 o clock breakfast drink, but with the British popularization of the beverage, it soon became the go-to drink. This is how Masala Chai took birth, which, not only was a tastier version of tea but also had a medicinal value.
The existing/age-old system of the tea store was based on manual and some computerized system. Like any other consumer goods, tea, for a long time was only sold in stores manually, so it was difficult to access and to calculate when the customers needed to know more varieties of teas. It required many staff members to give service to the customers with the manual system.
Media advancement/development and convenience of the modern day customers, tea stores started operating on the digital platform. Online tea stores have solved the problems of the manual system and expanded to penetrate the international channel using online catalogue, shopping cart and online payment. Today you can buy any kind of exotic or regional tea sitting at any part of the world and it will reach your doorstep. Online tea startups are creating Indian tea brands in markets like the US and Russia; something even the big tea estates and business houses have failed to do in the last century of the country’s history as a major tea producer. Zaira Tea belongs to this very category of online tea stores that, sells several specialty teas and single origin teas from around the world.
The advent of technology has boosted globalization in the best possible way. Online tea stores are the technological result that made consumption of various unique flavored teas in areas distant from them, more popular. The tea consuming countries are like one global village, each capable of tasting the tea originated in another region. From regular to herbal to healthy, tea is no more just a beverage-it is a form of lifestyle today. Have a sip of tea and explore the various flavors and join the celebration.