Around the World
in the City
|The Story of Tea
by Nina Rubin
Retro is in, from food to fashion. And you can’t get more retro
than tea, one of the world’s oldest beverages (try nearly 5,000
years). Legend has it that tea was born in 2737 B.C, when a Chinese emperor’s
servant accidentally spiked a pot of boiling water with tea leaves. The
emperor tasted it, and, according to the myth, tea was born.
Tea consumption and cultivation spread throughout China,
reaching all realms of society, including that of Zen Buddhism. In 800
A.D., the first definitive book on tea was written. Since the author had
been raised by Buddhist monks, the book was infused with Buddhist philosophy.
It was only natural, then, for monks to incorporate tea into their religious
It was a Buddhist priest named Yeisei who was responsible
for bringing tea from China to Japan. Recognizing its stimulative properties,
he was eager to incorporate tea into Japanese Buddhist meditation. From
Japan, tea spread to other parts of Asia, mostly as a means of barter.
Through deserts and over mountains, nomadic tribes and camel caravans
carted the leaves hundreds of miles, reaching modern day Mongolia and
Tibet - and beyond. India, by this time, had discovered its own native
tea varieties (but it took the encouragement of British colonists for
the Indian population to take up the habit).
The path of tea widened, crossing the seas to
Portugal. There, Dutch ships loaded up on the precious leaves and set
off for England, France, and the Baltic countries. This occurred at the
beginning of the 17th century. At the same time, the Chinese began expanding
their trade routes, supplying a Russian czar (and eventually the whole
of the country) with chests of tea. The New World got in on the tea craze
as well, receiving its first tea shipments (via Dutch trade ships) in
New Amsterdam (later renamed New York) in the mid-17th century. The journey
continued, until virtually every nation had tasted the beloved brew.