Tea Research Paper

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Since its accidental discovery over ten thousand years ago in the jungle triangle that covers where the borders of Myanmar (Burma), Assam (in present-day India), and China meet, tea has become the most consumed liquid on Earth, apart from water. As a commodity and a beverage, tea has had immense consequences for almost every aspect of human life and international relations.

Tea is a drink made by picking and drying the leaves of a species of camellia, Camellia sinensis. The leaf is then infused in hot or boiling water. Tea has many advantages as a trade good. For one thing, it can be produced cheaply. The semitropical climate it prefers is found in geographic regions as widely separated as central China and East Africa. Only a few leaves are needed to make a good pot of tea, and they can be reused. Dry tea is very light and stores well, so it can be shipped across the globe with ease, and its high value in relation to its weight makes it worthwhile to do so.

The Spread of Tea

Tea moved from the jungles of the golden triangle into the gardens of China at least a thousand years before the birth of Christ. It spread across all of China by the eighth century CE. From the ninth century onwards it became the chief commodity traded with the wandering tribes of Central Africa. The Mongols and Tibetans became great tea drinkers, and blocks of tea became the local currency. Tea was drunk by Buddhist monks as a medicinal beverage in Japan from the eighth century; in the thirteenth century the habit of drinking tea spread to the rest of the population, and tea became the universal drink.

Tea began to be imported to Europe in the seventeenth century. When the direct clipper trade to China opened up in the 1720s, the price dropped and the imports soared. By the middle of the eighteenth century it was widely drunk by all classes in Britain. It was exported to the colonies, and the duty imposed on tea contributed to colonial unrest (as demonstrated in the Boston Tea Party of 1773, in which angry colonists dumped shipments of tea into Boston Harbor), which culminated in the American Revolution and the establishment of the United States.

The British Empire was to a considerable extent built around tea, and the British East India Company’s profits were largely based on the tea trade and the three-way movement of opium, tea, and silver between India, China, and Britain. The British introduced tea into Assam from the 1840s, and by 1890 the region boasted large plantations and machine-based production in factories. Tea production continued to expand and spread, moving into southern India and Sri Lanka. The Indians themselves became great tea drinkers only from the 1920s. Before that almost all the tea had been exported to Britain, where it was sold for a higher price than it could fetch in India.

Because tea is best grown on plantations, its cultivation has altered the ecologies of the areas where it was grown, unsettled tribal populations, and thrown hundreds of thousands into boring, miserably paid labor, yet made huge profits for investors and tea managers. In Assam, for example, swathes of jungle, rare plants and many animals were destroyed. The tea coolies were herded into factories and into sweated labor in the gardens. The conditions have slowly improved, but are still often deplorable.

Tea and Social History

Tea is easily prepared for drinking, but its preparation is sufficiently elaborate to encourage the human love of play and ceremony. In East Asia it had an enormous effect on social life through the tea ceremony, which drew on elements of religion (especially Daoism in China and Zen Buddhism in Japan) and had a profound influence on aesthetics in areas as diverse as ink painting, pottery, and architecture. The Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and British developments in porcelain and pottery, themselves highly important trade goods, were centered on tea bowls and other tea ware. In present-day Japan, mastery of the tea ceremony is considered a sign of good breeding, and the tea ceremony industry is quite large.

Drinking tea altered gender relations, meal times, and etiquette. It helped raise the status of married women in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. It made the English breakfast less meat-intensive and allowed the evening meal to be held later. It also led to new formal gestures of politeness and courtesy surrounding the preparation and serving of tea.

Today approximately three billion people a day drink tea. Long appreciated for the gentle stimulation its caffeine content provides, tea is also highly regarded for its ability to kill the microorganisms that cause many water-borne diseases, and it is highly touted for its antioxidants. Historically, it has affected politics and the relations between nations and empires. It encouraged the development of new types of ship and ingenious factory machinery; it funded great trading companies and inspired literature and philosophy. It is indeed a remarkable plant.


  1. Clifford, M. N. (1992). Tea: Cultivation and consumption. London & New York: Chapman & Hall.
  2. Forrest, D. (1985). The world tea trade: A survey of the production, distribution and consumption of tea. Dover, NH: Woodhead- Faulkner.
  3. Goodwin, J. (1990). The gunpowder gardens: Travels through India and China in search of tea. London: Chatto & Windus.
  4. Hobhouse, H. (1985). Seeds of change: Five plants that transformed mankind. New York: Harper & Row.
  5. Macfarlane, A., & Macfarlane, I. (2004). The empire of tea: The remarkable history of the plant that took over the world. New York: Overlook Press.
  6. Ukers, W. H. (1935). All about tea. New York: The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal Company.

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