Tea - history
European 'discovery' of tea
|Image: This engraving shows the production of tea, from cultivation of the plants to preparation of the leaves in India around 1850.|
Trade routes were established between China and the countries of western Europe and Russia. For a long time, China was the world's supplier of tea and the Dutch and East India Companies had a monopoly shipping it back to Europe. Each ship often carried a consignment of as much as 100 t tea. It was also re-exported from Europe to the American colonies. In 1773 a dispute with Britain over the tax on tea consignments in Boston was one of the events that led to the American Revolution.
Tea in BritainBy the early 1800s, Britain was drinking its way through 9 million cups of tea a year at the heyday of the East India Company. During this time, China was the only supplier of tea to the western world. But, following the revision of its charter in 1834, the East India Company's monopoly of the tea trade between China and Britain came to an end. It was therefore natural that the British, through the East India Company, should concentrate on growing tea in India. Seeds from Chinese tea plants were planted in India. This was a significant step for the evolution of tea as a crop. During this time, an important discovery had already been made in India which would transform the situation (Discovery of tea in India). A variety of tea was found in Assam, and plantations of both China and Assam tea plants were set up.
Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century and during the first half of the twentieth century until the outbreak of the Second World War, the area under tea in India, Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) and the Dutch East Indies increased steadily. The tea produced was India black tea which was made in mechanised factories. The tea differed from the original China tea, being stronger in taste, deeper in colour, richer in caffeine but having a less delicate flavour. It was probably because of these factors that the British habit of drinking tea with milk and sugar arose.