In previous blog entries, we’ve discussed how tea can be a powerful way to bring families and communities together. However, tea also has a varied, complex history that reaches across the world in its scope. Though people in various countries around the globe drink tea in unique ways, one thing is abundantly clear: that tea is the great bridge between cultures.
Tea consumption, of course, dates back to ancient China, in approximately 2737 BCE (about two hundred years before the construction of the pyramids). For quite some time after that, tea was generally consumed in soups like a vegetable. Several hundred years later, people began to drink the tea, and the daily enjoyment of tea became inextricably linked to Chinese culture. As history marched on, and China began to interact more with other nations, tea became an invaluable source of trade. The tea horse road was developed as a path for people to trade Chinese tea with Tibetan horses, and this road eventually served the function of joining the Silk Road and spreading tea throughout the rest of Asia and to the world.
During the Tang Dynasty, tea was brought over to Japan in both seed and drinkable forms. Very quickly, the contemplative nature of tea culture fused with the Buddhist philosophies prevalent in Japan at the time, and tea became an integral part of their culture as well. England, another nation commonly associated with tea, was first introduced to tea during the 17th century, and tea rapidly became closely intertwined with their own culture. Since the supply from China could not hope to meet the demand in Britain, the British smuggled tea plants out of China and planted them in India, which is now the second largest producer of tea in the world.
All these nations (and many more) have developed countless variants of tea. Different cultures have different tastes, different needs, and different climates, resulting in the incredible variety of tea we have at our disposal today. The fact remains, however, that all those teas trace their roots back to the same tea plant, and whether you’re drinking Chinese Pu-erh, Japanese Matcha, or British Earl Grey, you’re still enjoying a nice cup of tea. Tea serves as a means of leveling the playing field between utterly disparate nations, races, and classes. Although better and rarer teas may be more expensive, it’s comforting that even the poorest farmer and the richest dignitary can find some common ground in their enjoyment of a simple cup of tea. In a world with so many distinctions and divisions, tea is exactly what we need to bring us all together.
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