Tea is always considered as something quintessentially British, and the British have certainly consumed huge quantities of this celebrated brew in fact tea has been part of the British heritage for over 350 years. But if the truth is told the origins of the infamous British “cuppa” lie somewhere else and go back way beyond a mere 350 years.
The widely accepted story of the origins matcha bubble tea of the first cup of tea begins in China, in 2737 BC, the then emperor Shen Nung was relaxing beneath a tree in his garden while his man servant boiled drinking water, by chance some leaves from an over hanging tree fell into the water. Emperor Shen Nung, a renowned herbalist of the time, decided to taste the drink that his servant had accidentally created. The tree was a Camellia sinensis and the resulting drink was what we know today and for at least the last 350 years as tea.
Drinking tea remained a Chinese and later a Japanese custom for hundreds of years, the consuming of tea over time became ritualized, i.e. the Japanese tea ceremony. It is not possible to know whether this quaint story of Emperor Shen Nung is fact or fiction, but drinking tea became popular in China hundreds of years before the first tea cup was ever washed in the west. Tea containers have been found in Chinese tombs dating back as far as (206 BC – 220 AD) and the Han dynasty but it was not until later under the Tang dynasty between 618-906 AD, that tea became fully recognized as the national drink of China.
Shortly after this, tea was introduced to Japan, It arrived in Japan with some Japanese Buddhist monks who had been studying in China tea drinking soon became a vital part of Japanese culture, as can be witnessed by the famed Japanese Tea Ceremony.
So at this stage in the history of tea, Britain and the rest of the western world were lagging rather far behind the orient. It is only in the later half of the 16th century that we first start to hear of tea as a drink with in Europe. It was The Dutch, in 1606 that first shipped tea from China to Holland. Tea soon became a fashionable drink among the Dutch high society, and from there spread to other countries in continental Europe, but due of its high price it remained a drink only for the rich upper classes.
Britain, historically renown for its reticence in adopting continental fads and trends, had yet to become the nation of tea drinkers that it is famed for being today. According to the UK Tea council “the first dated reference to tea in Britain is from an advert in a London newspaper, of 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. Coffee had for a few years been drunk in Britain the first coffee house had being 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.”