A Cupful of History

by Samantha Darnell

Cancer fighter, emblem of tyranny, divination tool…anybody guess it? Tea, of course! This omnipresent beverage may be very familiar to you, but how much do you really know about it? I could easily list my top 15 favorite types of tea (I expect most of you readers could as well) but if someone asked me how that tea came to be steeping in my cup, I’d look a fool. With the hope of collective avoidance of foolishness, let’s learn about the magical world of tea.

Origin of Tea Leaves

According to legend, the Chinese Emperor Shan Nong ‘discovered’ tea in 2737 B.C. Into the Emperor’s customary cup of boiled water fell some leaves whilst he was strolling through a garden. The pleasing aroma convinced him to taste this concoction. He was so impressed with the energizing effects of the brew he immediately ordered tea bushes to be planted in his gardens. The trend spread and has been growing in popularity for the last 4500 or so years. That’s quite a legacy.

ImageLet’s have a party, a tea party!

While tea has forever been heralded for its medicinal qualities, this interesting plant has also played some important historical roles throughout its time of cultivation. Tea facilitated trading relations between the East and West and was the impetus, in many respects, for navigation innovation in the U.K. needed to ensure a continuous supply of tea for British elites in the 17th century.

The party really started, however, in Boston (where else?) with the most accepted example of food waste in our history. By taking matters into their own hands and rerouting crates of British tea into the harbor, those patriots temporarily reclassified tea as a symbol of repression and an unfit monarch.

ImageEnter Thomas Sullivan. This New York tea merchant began sampling his products in small, white silk bags. Intrigued customers convinced him to sell the idea and, suddenly, affordable tea became available for all social strata.

Money Grows on Bushes

The tea industry boasts more than $8 billion in annual sales, of which 281 million pounds of tea go to the United States alone. Considered a repression-proof product, tea has continued its impressive growth and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon. The rising popularity of specialty teas and an expanding customer base concerned with healthy food and drink products are continuing to make this drink a timeless classic.

Some final pop culture thoughts:

Ron: (reading Harry’s tea leaves) Well, this shape means that there will be suffering, and this one is shaped like a moon and that means happiness. So I guess you’re gonna suffer… but you’re going to be happy about it…..(Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

So, how do you take your tea?

Photo credits: http://taiwanteatour.blogspot.com/2012/02/2011-tost-bagua-tea-garden-10202012.html; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BTPlogo.jpg

Samantha is a senior Business Honors, Supply Chain Management, Spanish Literature major. 

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