How has tea changed the world as it was adopted everywhere?

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that we’ve all enjoyed a cup of tea at some point in our lives, no matter where in the world we’re located. No matter what you call it, tea is a warm, herbal drink that’s not only healthy with some medicinal properties, but it has also inspired poetry, arts, crafts and ceramics and has a strong historical background. It all started in China, and from there, the word “tea” or “chá”, depending on whether the water or land route was taken, the word “tea” was adopted and became the foundation for our tea drinking culture today. To put things in perspective, here are some of the ways to say “tea” in a few global languages: Spanish: té; Afrikaans: tee; Hindi: chay; Persian: chay; Urdu: chay; Arabic: shay; Russian: chay; Swahili: chai; French: thé; and German: Tee. But is there an east-west tea culture? It would be a good idea to take a look at some of the history to determine the answer. So, let’s start with China.

China

It is alleged that one Chinese emperor was sitting outside one day with some hot water in his cup when some leaves blew into the cup, colouring it and causing it to flavor. Skipping some centuries forward and tea became a big deal in China with the opening of tea houses, rituals for consuming tea, the proliferation of artistic works such as ceramics in which tea was served and so much more.

Japan

Tea was then introduced to Japan via the Eastern Silk Road where it gained popularity and even blindfolded contests were held to determine if the guinea pig in question could determine a high quality from a low quality one. Initially, however, tea was brought to Japan by a Buddhist monk as tea was known to be used by monks for its help in assisting with many hours of long meditation as well as concentration. Today in Japan, tea and Buddhism still go hand in hand.

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India

India is a country which was one of the world’s largest producers of tea once the British arrived there. This was through the British East India Company. Various different types of tea were discovered and harvested there, with trade routes especially established for the transportation of tea to Europe. Today, there are what are called “chai wallahs” in nearly every urban and rural place in India where tea is enjoyed by people from all walks of life.

Europe

tea cultureWhen the Europeans first arrived in Asia and discovered tea there, they felt that they had discovered something amazing. And it truly was! The obsession with tea even led some to say that this was the cause of the Opium Wars in China when Europeans wanted to trade opium for tea. However, later on, tea was brought to Europe and many countries to this day enjoy a “cuppa” tea on a daily basis. One special anecdote about tea in France specifically is that its prominence fell after the French Revolution although it regained its reputation shortly after to continue taking a central place in French people’s daily lives.

North America

The British Empire’s reach in North America and the impact of tea was felt there, too. The British government’s extremely high tax on tea and monopoly on distribution provoked the ‘Boston Tea Party’ of 1773. What happened then? Essentially, “American colonists stormed a fleet of British ships at Boston harbour and threw their tea consignments overboard.” This was the start of the American War of Independence.

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Middle East

Turkey is considered the world’s largest consumer of tea per capita and in countries like Iran and Lebanon, people continue to enjoy tea throughout the day on various social occasions, in addition to more special events like weddings.

Conclusion

With all the above being said, and no matter in which part of the world we find ourselves in, there is certainly something that may be called the tea culture of the world. While there are many differences between western culture vs eastern culture, these cultural differences between the west and the east are easily overcome by sharing a cup of tea, tee, te, chai, chay, or anything else by which this hot brew is known. Overall, tea has the power to unite and, historically, it had the power to drive economies, trade routes and even conflicts. Today, it’s a unifying force that is used to welcome someone into their home, to relax after a long, hard day, or to even enjoy with a friend or loved one when reminiscing.