Chinese have been drinking tea for a long time. Legend
tells us that tea the drink, was discovered accidentally
around 2700 BC by the mythical Emperor known as the Divine
Cultivator, Shen Nong. Tea has been cultivated in China
for at least eighteen hundred years.
drinking began in Japan during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618–807).
arrived in Europe around 1610, the same time that coffee
found its way from Africa. During the 17th Century, coffee
found more favour with the English than tea, but lacking
any coffee growing colonies themselves, and not wanting
to enrich their European rivals who did, the British Government
encouraged the sale of tea.
and Russia became the leading European aficionados of tea,
and remain so today.
the early days of importation, tea in Europe was a luxury,
sold largely on the basis of its supposed medicinal properties.
The rich had it, everyone else wanted it, and within a
century, they got it.
British tea trade was lucrative enough to inadvertently
spur the development of shipping technology: the
clipper ship that arrived early in a British port
with a fresh, and dry cargo, had a market advantage
over its slower, leakier rivals.
green tea was imported to Europe, but it was easy to
adulterate with cheaper, look-alike plants. The market
eventually switched to black tea.
were keen tea drinkers early on but the events leading
up to and including the Boston Tea Party in 1773 changed
all that. Today they remain staunch coffee drinkers.
Opium Wars grew out of the British public's love affair
with tea. British coffers were draining away to China
to pay for imported tea leaf, but the British had nothing
compelling to offer to the Chinese in return. The Brits,
wanting to even up the trade imbalance, sold the Chinese
opium from British India. With some two million people
addicted to "foreign mud", Chinese outrage resulted
in attempts to restrict the import of opium, and the
Opium Wars resulted.
China tea trade reached its zenith in 1886. The Opium War,
the Taiping Rebellion, combined with a general decline
in Ching Dynasty fortunes, resulted in a drastic decline
of exports. By the 1940s India and Japan were the leading
tea merchants to the world.
Chinese have had cups with handles since early times,
handleless cups, or bowls, with or without lids have
usually been preferred.
The tea saucer is not a British, but a Tang Dynasty-Chinese
invention. Handleless cups full of tea are too hot
to pass around. The saucer acts as a 'tray'; its
circular indent designed to prevent the cup from slipping