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Aromatic history

Updated: July 28, 2016 11:27 am

Tea is often thought of as being a quintessentially British drink, and the Britishers are drinking it for over 350 years. But in fact the history of tea goes much further back. The story of tea begins in Oriental China. According to legend, in 2737 BC, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water, when some leaves from the tree blew into the water. Shen Nung, a renowned herbalist, decided to try the infusion that his servant had accidentally created. The tree was a Camellia sinensis, and the resulting drink was what we now call tea. No one can prove the truthness of this story, but, it is a fact that tea has been implanted in the Chinese culture long before it made its road into West. Britain, always a little suspicious of continental trends, had yet to become the nation of tea drinkers that it is today.  If the history is to be taken into account then it is very clear that sailors of the British East India Company (in later period known as East India Company), which had the monopoly over the offshore trades, had brought tea home as gifts. But the first dated reference to tea in this country is from an advert in a London newspaper, Mercurius Politicus, from September 1658.  It announced that ‘China Drink, called by the Chinese, Tcha, by other Nations Tay alias Tee’ was on sale at a coffee house in Sweeting’s Rents in the City. The first coffee house had been established in London in 1652, and the terms of this advert suggest that tea was still somewhat unfamiliar to most readers, so it is fair to assume that the drink was still something of a curiosity.

 The turning point in the history of tea in Britain came with the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza. She was a Portuguese princess, and a tea addict, and it was her love of the drink that established tea as a fashionable beverage first at court, and then among the wealthy classes as a whole. Capitalising on this, the East India Company began to import tea into Britain, its first order being placed in 1664 – for 100lbs of China tea to be shipped from Java.

Empire of Tea

The Asian Leaf That

Conquered The World

Markman Ellis

Richard Coulton

Matthew Mauger


Price : `449

Pages : 326

Imported by the East India Company in increasing quantities across the eighteenth century, tea started the first regular exchange between China and Britain, both commercial and cultural. While European scientists struggled to make sense of tea’s natural history and medicinal properties, the delicate flavour profile and hot preparations of tea inspired poets, artists and satirists. Becoming central to everyday life, tea also got embroiled in controversies, from the gossip table to the civil disorder occasioned by smuggling, and from the political scandal of Boston Tea Party to the violent conflict of the Anglo- Chinese opium war.

The book Empire of Tea is an extensively researched volume, which provides a rich cultural history that explores how the British ‘way of tea’ became the norm across the Anglophone world. The book explores the story of an Asian cash crop, a necessary luxury, utterly free of nutritional value, shipped halfway around the world, saturating a mass market, incapably foreign, indispensably British. In a nutshell, this book encompasses the aromatic history of tea making its inroads into the British household.

by Nilabh Krishna


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