The other afternoon, I made myself a cup of hot tea. As I poured the boiling water into the cup with the tea bag, I thought: “I bet tea has a fascinating history.” So I did a little reading and came up with this.
Legend says that tea was discovered in 2737 B.C. by a Chinese emperor named Shen-Ning. Evidently, as he was boiling a pot of water one day, some tea leaves accidently fell in. That’s the legend. But here are a few facts. Ceramic tea pots were used in Asia and the Middle East 11,000 years ago. In the beginning, tea was considered medicinal and was sold in ancient “pharmacies.” Even today many health professionals say that tea is good for you. Supposedly, it contains antioxidants that can repair cells in the body.
The word for tea reflects tea’s history and universality. The words for tea in virtually every language fall into three groups: te, cha, chai. In these words, we see the transmission of tea from China to the rest of the world. This is how you say tea in the following languages: Spanish, Swedish, Italian: te; French: le the; Irish: tae; German: tee; Czech: caj (pronounced cha-y); Russian: chay; Hebrew: teh; Arabic: chai or shai; Swahili; chai. The upshot is, if you want a cup of tea anywhere in the world just say cha, chai, or tea and chances are you’ll get one!
China and Indian are the largest producers of tea. The best teas seem to come from higher elevations and are hand-picked. It takes about 2,000 tiny tea leaves to make one pound of finished tea. Which tea is the best in the world? Tea connoisseurs say it is Darjeeling tea. This “champagne of tea” is grown in India at the foot of the Himalayas in an area that is only 70 square miles.
Today there are roughly 1500 different kinds of tea. When we think of tea, many of us think of England. In British novels, films, and TV shows, the Brits are always offering each other a cup of tea. Today the U.K. drinks 6.2 billion cups of tea a year. That’s 65 million cups a day. Those of us in the United States still prefer coffee over tea. Interestingly, 85% of the tea consumed in the U.S. is iced tea.
Speaking of iced tea, the person credited with serving the first iced tea was a British tea seller at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. It seems the weather was exceptionally hot at that time. The tea seller was distraught as the crowds passed by his tea stand in search of cooler drinks. That’s when he got a brilliant idea. He threw some ice into his tea and presto! Iced tea was born!
The tea bag was invented a few years later by another tea seller, Thomas Sullivan. In 1908, he decided to send samples of his tea to his customers in small silken bags. The customers thought the bags were to be used in the same way as the metal infusers they ordinarily used. So they threw the little bags into their tea cups. Eventually Sullivan began to make the bags out of paper. At first, the British were wary of using tea bags. In the 1960’s, tea bags accounted for only 3% of the tea sold in Great Britain. But today, tea bags account for 96% of the tea sold there. The Brits were converted to the American labor-saving device called a tea bag.
Did Jesus drink tea? Most historians say no. Tea was unknown in that part of the world in Jesus’ time.
The story of tea is a fascinating one. Historically, it was the British tax on tea that led to American Independence. Before that, tea was a major factor in connecting the East and the West. Today, tea is still connecting people everywhere. Tea is consumed by more people in the world than any other beverage—except water!
Do you drink tea? Hot or iced or both?
Does tea play a significant role in your life? If so, how?
Tea is a great connector of people. Can you think of other things that connect people around the world?
I chose a song by Carrie Newcomer entitled “Room at the Table.” The spirit of this song coincides with welcoming someone in for a cup of tea. The images here tell us of other “things” that unite us as human beings: music and dance!
PS: I ask your prayers for two presentations I’m giving this week. The first is a retreat day on Saturday, Feb, 24 at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL. Entitled “A Celebration of Hope,” the retreat goes from 10:00 to 3:00. The contact person is Dr. Evelyn Allen at 239-348-2492. The second one is on Monday, February 26 at Espirtu Santo Parish in Safety Harbor, FL. I’ll be speaking on “Hanging onto Hope in Today’s World” after the 8:30 am Mass. See Deacon Steve for details at 727-726-8477. Thank you!
I welcome your responses below to today’s post!