The Origins of Tea

Feb 9, 2021

The Origins of Tea | FWIO

Have you ever wondered which country drinks the most tea? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the United Kingdom! The country with the highest tea consumption per capita is Turkey. It’s followed by Morocco, Ireland, Mauritania, and finally the United Kingdom in fifth place.

China is the world’s largest producer of tea, followed by India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Turkey.

Did you know, China is not only the world’s largest producer of tea, it was also the first country to discover and cultivate tea? The Chinese have been growing and drinking tea for more than 2000 years! However, tea was not always used as a drink. The plant was originally used in cooking and as a medicinal herb. It was first consumed as a drink by the people in the Sichuan (or Szechuan) province of China, and this practice spread to other parts of China during the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD). 

From the Han Dynasty to the Mid-Tang Dynasty, people boiled the raw tea leaves with spices. Later in the Tang Dynasty, the spices were replaced with salt. During this period the first tea ceremony was created, which greatly influenced Chinese culture. After the development of the formal tea ceremony, the first book ever written about tea, The Classic of Tea, was written by tea master Lu Yu. He is often referred to as the Patron Saint of Tea or the Sage of Tea in Chinese culture. Over time, the traditions began to change, and by the Ming Dynasty people were brewing their tea leaves using a similar method to what we see now – steeping the dried tea leaves in hot water, without adding spices or salt.

Prior to this period, people typically brewed their tea in the same vessel that they drank it from. Usually it was brewed in a bowl, and the person would hold the bowl in both hands to drink the tea. During the Ming Dynasty, a small bowl with a lid was developed to use for brewing the tea leaves separately. The lid was used to keep the tea leaves inside the bowl when pouring out the tea. This vessel is known as a gaiwan and is still used to brew tea in China today.

After the gaiwan was developed, the Taiwanese developed the fairness cup. The fairness cup is essentially a small pitcher. The tea would be poured from the gaiwan into the fairness cup, and then from the fairness cup into each teacup. This method of brewing and serving tea is still used in some versions of the Gong Fu tea ceremony in China, although others now use a small clay teapot in place of the gaiwan.

From China, tea eventually spread to the rest of the world and became the popular beverage that is it today.

New ways of serving tea were developed, such as the modern tea set that many of us are familiar with. Many countries also developed their own tea practices, such as the Japanese tea ceremony and the British tradition of afternoon tea.

Ready to explore more of tea’s history and how tea captured the world? Read on.