The history of tea: a brief look at tea's fascinating journey from East to West

It's no secret that the UK is a nation of tea lovers. In fact, it's estimated that us Brits drink a whopping 100 millions cups of tea every day. That's 36 billion—yep, you read that right—cups of tea each year. But where does tea come from? When did it first reach British shores? And why do Americans prefer coffee?

Where does tea come from?

The birthplace of tea is believed to be Yunnan Provence in Southwestern China near the borders of Tibet, Myanmar, India and Laos. Tea was originally used as a medicinal drink around 1500 BC in China. Prior to the 9th Century AD, consumption was mainly limited to Southern China.

Around this time, Buddhist Monks introduced tea to Japan and Korea, along with rituals and customs that form the basis for the traditional tea ceremony. First popularised in Japan, these traditions are still practiced widely today.

It was not until the 16th Century that tea was brought to Europe by Italian and Portuguese merchants. The earliest record of tea in the English language was written by an officer of The East India Company in Japan around 1615.

When did tea first come to Britain?

Formal trading in tea between Britain and China began in 1664 and by 1750 tea had become our national drink. The hot drink has been firmly embedded in British culture ever since.

In an effort to break China's monopoly on supply, the British East India Company took tea production to India (in 1836) and Sri Lanka (in 1867).

By the early 1900s, India had become the largest producer of tea in the world, a position they held until only recently. China would eventually regain the number one spot, but not until the 21st century.

Why do Americans prefer coffee to tea?

Tea was brought to America by the Dutch in the late 1640s. It quickly became an established ritual in upper-class households. Although America's relationship with tea has been tepid ever since, it remained popular until the Tea Act of 1773, introduced by the British Parliament to prop up the ailing British East India Company.

This culminated in the Boston Tea Party in December of that year when American Patriots prevented the landing of tea from British ships by tipping cargoes into Boston Harbour.

Thanks to the Boston Tea Party, drinking tea was considered to be unpatriotic by Americans. Worse still, it was a key moment in the lead up to the American War of Independence in 1775. To this day, coffee remains more popular than tea in the States.  2016, Americans drank more coffee than tea, beer, wine and spirits combined.

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