Updated: Mar 18
In the West, when we think about tea, we think about Great Britain and we think about China. Even though the Venetian Marco Polo first made it to China by land in 1275 and the Portuguese Jeorge Alvares landed in China first by sea in 1513, when we think Tea, typically we think about the British and their influence on tea.
It was the Dutch that were the Europeans most active with tea in the early 1600's but even there tea had not begun to penetrate society until the 1650's when it finally made its way to England.
The Portuguese had been developing their tea culture and it was not until the marriage of Catherine of Braganza in 1662 to King Charles II of England that the leaves really began to steep. Catherine introduces Afternoon Tea to the Royal Court and a fledgling tea culture in Britain takes off and never looks back.
The discovery, or actually mishap of Black Tea was stumbled upon by the Chinese in 1590 who unknowingly created what would become the preferred tea type of much of the west.
As it turns out, it was this love affair that was developing with the Europeans, and in particular the British that truly shaped history dramatically around tea. Yes for Britain, there was no turning back. They developed the taste for tea, and were wise enough to know they had come across something very good...that they would just have to continue to have.
The Teas of the British Empire is not a simple statement about the British love of tea, it is about the need of those that had become enthralled with tea and the lengths that they were willing to go to to protect their ability to get and consume tea.
It was the British that grew weary of China getting all their silver therefore convincing the Chinese to accept Opium in exchange for silver, then used it to purchase tea, leading to the Chinese becoming as dependent on Opium as the British had become on tea. All this leading to the Opium Wars (1839-1860).
The Tea-Opium crisis did not only lead to war, it created interruptions in tea supply which the Europeans saw coming for decades before. The British attempted time and again to grow tea in their colonies but experienced failure after failure until the mid 1800's.
The British had tried to cultivate tea since the late 1700's but in 1823, native tea plants were found growing in the Assam region of India, and in 1860 tea plants and seeds were smuggled out of China, brought to Darjeeling India and successfully planted there.
The British modernized the cultivation, the harvesting and the processing of tea leaves utilizing industrial talent and techniques to produce volumes of high quality Indian tea.
If you can imagine all this going on with the backdrop of the creation of the East India Company, The French & Indian war in North America, the taxation of tea without representation on the North American colonies leading to the Boston Tea Party, and the American Revolution...then you can imagine the importance and influence it has made on our collective history.
Yes there is a reason that when we think of tea, we think of the British.
For a more in-depth understanding of the elements of the Teas of The British Empire, please join me for a Focused Tea Tasting where we will discuss the events & teas that influenced the history of tea while we sample selected teas from the periods and places they are famous from.