Tea 101: Origins – China
The origins of tea – all tea – can be traced back 5,000 years ago to China.
All the Tea in China
History tells us tea was discovered by botanical explorer and Chinese emperor Shen-Nung in 2737 B.C.
According to legend, while purifying water under a tea tree, some leaves happened to blow into the emperor’s pot, resulting in an accidental – but fortuitous – brew.
He named the brew “ch’a,” which is translated as “to investigate,” as the emperor perceived the beverage spread throughout his body – investigating it – as he drank.
Between 202 B.C. and 206 A.D., Chinese farmers developed cultivating, drying, and processing methods, and tea’s popularity began to grow. It soon began to be consumed as a beverage, and not only for its medicinal properties.
Eighth century scholar Lu Yu penned the first official book on tea, which offered insights into every conceivable aspect of tea, from farming to brewing.
Throughout the Ming dynasty, production expanded from green tea to black tea and flower-scented varieties.
Then, in the 9th century, tea began to travel to countries outside of China, including Japan, Korea, and ultimately the Middle East. China remained the product’s sole exporter, however, until the 19th century.
Near the 17th century, China gifted tea to Russia. It also began spreading to other countries, including Europe by way of Portugal and the Netherlands.
When India and Ceylon began to grow tea in the 19th century, China finally lost its dominant foothold in the market. However, today, the country has reclaimed its status as top producer of tea worldwide.
A Brief Glance
Chinese tea is a deep-rooted component of the country’s culture. Today, its teas have grown to include all varieties:
• Green tea
• Black tea
• White tea
China is home to four predominant tea-growing regions:
• Jiangnan (South of the Yangtze river)
• Jiangbei (North of the Yangtze river)
• Huanan (South China)
• Xinan (South West China)
The country’s geography also plays a pivotal role in when the plant is harvested. Contributing factors include:
• Sun: In higher elevations where mist and shade is prominent, plants tend to bloom later.
• Rain: Monthly rainfall amounts in excess of 100mm are required for a successful crop.
• Heat: Tea tends to hibernate at 10°C and below, so teas are not harvested during China’s winter months.
Chinese tea can be harvested anywhere from 1-7 times per year, with the first harvest typically occurring anytime from mid-February until the end of May.