Ancient China is the birthplace of tea almost 5000 years ago. The golden age of tea started during the Tang Dynasty.
It was the favourite drink of emperors. It was the subject of books and poetry and a medium for artists.
At one point China held a virtual monopoly on the world’s tea trees making tea one of the three essential export goods. This gave China a great deal of power and economic influence as tea drinking spread around the world.
In 1600 the Dutch traders brought large quantities of tea to Europe. In 1661 Great Britain was in the midst of expanding its colonial influence and empire in becoming the new dominant world power. As Great Britain grew, interest in tea spread around the world. In 1700 tea was ten times more expensive than coffee and the tea plants were only grown in China. The tea business was so lucrative, all were racing to bring tea back to Europe to maximize profits.
At first Great Britain paid for tea with silver, this was becoming too expensive, they suggested trading tea with opium, but this triggered a health problem as people were becoming addicted, so a Chinese official ordered men to destroy massive British shipments. This triggered a war between two nations. The war weakened China’s global standing.
The British East India Company wanted to be able to grow tea themselves and further control the market . They commissioned a botanist Robert Fortune to steal tea from China. He disguised himself took a perilous journey through the tea regions and eventually managed to smuggle tea trees and experienced tea workers into Darjeeling India.
From there the plant spread helping to drive teas rapid growth. Today tea is the second most consumed beverage after water.