There are many ways to classify the world, one is what people drink for breakfast. In which case there are really only two sorts of cultures, tea drinkers and coffee drinkers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a geographic distribution of who drinks what. East, South and Southeast Asia are dominated by tea drinking cultures, while Europe, Africa and the Americas are coffee drinking cultures.
There are however a few large exceptions. While most of Asia drinks tea, the Phillippines, Myanmar and South Korea have more coffee drinkers than tea drinkers. The South Korea and Filipino case can be attributed to the cultural influence of the Americans and Spanish. As for Myanmar, it seems to be a coffee drinking place because it is home to a coffee production industry, just a wild guess. Then there is the opposite situation. Located within a sea of coffee drinkers in Europe is an isolated island of tea drinkers in the United Kingdom. I guess they really weren’t in Europe huh 😉
I like both tea and coffee, and having visited a coffee factory in Gävle, I decided to check out tea this time in Stockholm. There is perhaps only one well known place for tea in Stockholm, the Tea Centre in Stockholm that was founded in 1979 and has his fancy early 20th century vibe to it. I couldn’t take pictures inside, so all that’s available is this picture of the outside, and a few pictures taken from other websites.
What was clear though was the British vibe, perhaps is has to be with something about teas sold in Europe that had a strong British basis. Why what’s up with that?
But not just the British one.
Before Empire let’s start with tea first. Tea or Cha in mandarin, is believed to have been discovered in China around 2800BC by an ancient cultural hero the emperor and herbalist Shen Nong. Shen Nong went around testing plants and herbs for their medicinal effects and wrote a compendium called the Sheng Nong Ben Cao Jing (translated as the Classics of Herbal Medicine). It’s not a good idea randomly putting things into your mouth, and the legend goes that Shen Nong poisoned himself 72 times in one day. Surreptitiously, a leaf fell into a cup of water that he managed to have with him and drinking it revived him giving us the tea that we know today.
All teas come from the same leaf that was found in China, but is today grown in many places. Despite that there are only two ways of referring to tea, some variation of cha or tea.
These represent the two different routes that tea took out of China. The first route went through land when the silk road from China to Persia and Turkey was at its peak (from 114 BC to around 1400). Chinese traders took tea to the Mesopotamia and introduced this refreshing drink pronounced in mandarin as cha.
The second route came much later and went through the European coloniasation period (1557 to 1999). Now the Portugese and Spanish were once swashbuckling worldpowers who colonised Asia, Africa and America. But you knew that. What has this got to do with anything? The Portuguese had a colony in China, one they bought from China – Macau in 1557, and built the place up, making Macau a Mediterranean town with Chinese faces.
Into the milieu were Jesuit priests and traders who did trade with the Chinese officials. One of the things that they brought back to Macau was tea. Trading occurred with the Dutch then and Dutch ships brought tea back to Europe. The continental elites were enamoured with this exotic drink from the Orient. It was the drink of choice of the elites in Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands. It happened that a Portugese royal, Catherine of Braganza got married to King Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland and she brought her tea drinking habits with her. Eager to live like a royal, the elegant ladies of the British upper class then took to this new drink.
Tea became an aspirational drink in England, Scotland and Ireland. More and more people wanted the drink, but tea was still being produced only in China. The supply was constant but the demand grew and grew leading to prices shooting up. Shops such as Twinings were set up focused purely on selling teas. The British wanted to buy more tea from China, but the prices were kept artificially high by a monopoly from the East India Company and the government taxes. This led to the rise of Smuggling gangs arose to ship more tea out of China bypassing the East India Company.
This was not sustainable, plus they had just lost their colonies in the Americas, something had to change!
Then they found something in one of their colonies. It was a plant whose sap made people feel great. They caked opium into neat boxes and started to introduce it into China through gifts and the blackmarket. China became addicted to opium. China wanted opium and the British found a way to get back their silver and make a profit. Opium however had a horrible effect on the people and Lin Zexu and other officials tried to stop the trade, leading to the Opium War.
In 1841 the height of the first opium war, a doctor called Archibald Campbell was transferred out of China to serve in India. Before leaving China, Campbell brought some tea seeds with him and settled at the Himalayan town of Darjeeling, where he experimented with planting these seeds. It worked and soon Indian teas were being sold in Britain and Europe. Teas were then grown in Africa and South Asia.
Things then changed, Europe and Britain still wanted tea, but they changed their tastes and come to like Ceylonese, Darjeeling and Assam tea alot more than Chinese tea, and obviously the wonderful blend called Earl Grey. Chinese teas went back to being an exotic flavour and history took the course it took.
I need to go back to the Tea Centre soon…
The special blend was really fragrant.
ON THE MAP