Part One : Discovery
‘Chai’ is a feature of our culture that our days begin with, as do our evenings. It’s an offering that does not change in nature or intent, be it our families or our guests. Tea, not as a mere drink, but as a layered and nuanced aspect of world culture has been absorbed by us as water does from the leaves. But where did it begin? And how did we end up doing what we now do?
Tea, before anywhere else on the planet, was first consumed around China. It was probably domesticated somewhere around Indo-Burma and Southwestern China. Two of the oldest types to tea are the Yunnan tea and Assam tea types, and tea drinking most probably began around the Yunnan region of China during the time of the Shang Dynasty (around the 2nd Millennium BC). While the Shang Dynasty used it for medicinal purposes, the Sichuan province looked at it as more of a stimulant.
Fun Fact : Chinese legends say that tea was first consumed by the mythical deity Shennong in 2737 BC, but the earliest physical evidence comes from the tomb of Emperor Jing of the Han dynasty, which was somewhere around the 2nd century BC.
Now the Chinese, just as us Indians, have many linguistic differences and variations, so naturally they had different words for tea as well! The word ‘tea’ can be traced back to the Min language where it was called ‘tê’, while the word ‘chai’ can be traced back to the Mandarin ‘chá’!
Tea in China was originally consumed as green,yellow or black tea. The first Europeans to actually discover tea were the Portuguese, who were responsible for tea traveling all the way to Europe. Milk tea as we now know it became a trend in England after they started trading tea with the Chinese. So the word ‘tê’ found it’s fame in Europe, while ‘chá’ found it’s fortune in India.
‘Chai’ actually isn’t a very old part of our culture. Even though tea was drunk in ancient India around the Himalayan regions, usually for medicinal purposes, it’s widespread use became popular here only after the British started growing tea crops in North India which was again bought from China.
Another Fun Fact : The world famous Assam tea, untouched for thousands of years, was actually discovered by accident
Though the east has always seen tea as an emissary of peace, the West had quite a few problems due to Tea Tax, especially the Brits and the Americans. Boston Tea Party rings a bell, doesn’t it?
There are other cultures who have been consuming tea for quite a long time as well. For example, people in Africa would consume tea made from this broom like plant called ‘Rooibos’, while the Latin Americans have always been charmed by some lovely hibiscus tea!
Now, due to globalization, the tea industry is one of highest grossing industries in the world, to the point where tea has become the second most popular drink after water! Jasmine, Matcha, Rooibos, Masala, etc. are just some of the wonderful innovations that we have come up with over the course of history.
What is your favorite type of tea, which you would like to know more about? Let us know in the comments section below!