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Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Origins of Tea: A Tale of Two Countries

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Tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world, enjoyed by millions of people every day. But where did this drink originate? There has been much debate over the years about whether tea originated in China or India. While there is no clear answer, it is clear that both countries have played a significant role in the history of tea.

China has long been associated with tea, and for good reason. The practice of drinking tea began in Yunnan, during the reign of the Shang Dynasty, and later people living in Sichuan discovered the art of making tea. Chinese legends state that the tea was accidentally invented 4753 years ago by Emperor Shennong, widely considered to be the ancestor of the Han Dynasty in China. The association of tea with relaxation is no accident. Closely intertwined with Buddhism, especially Chan Buddhism, tea is often seen as an aid to meditation, stemming hunger, clearing the mind, and sharpening resolve.

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However, Indian culture also has a long history with tea. The Singpho tribe in Assam, India, drank a variation of Chinese tea for many centuries. Indian tea has larger leaves and produces a stronger liquor, while the Chinese tea is smaller leaves that gave a weaker liquor with floral flavor. In 1853, Fraser’s Magazine suggested that India and not China was the “natural home of the tea plant”. It is a probability that the first tea was discovered along the regions of Northeast India and Southwest of China. Historically both India and China are using tea as of medicinal value.

According to legends and Chan Buddhism, tea originated in India, and the leaves were carried to China by Bodhidharma in the 6th c. BCE. According to Chinese legends, Bodhidharma cut off his eyelids to avoid falling asleep. The severed eyelids then fell on the ground and transformed into the first tea plants. Japanese culture credits Bodhidharma, the Indian saint, and founder of Zen Buddhism, for this development.


Today, the tea market can be categorized into Leaf tea and CTC tea (Crush, Tear, and Curl). In the CTC method, the tea leaves are processed through machines and are less time-consuming, while the leaf tea process comprises harvesting & processing by hand. As a result, a leaf tea is more expensive and is of superior quality. In 2019, India became the largest exporter of tea to China. China is the largest producer of green tea in the world. There has been an increase in the demand for black tea among the Chinese millennials generation.

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In conclusion, while the exact area where tea was first grown may be up for debate, there is no denying the fact that both China and India have played a significant role in the history of tea. Whether you prefer leaf tea or CTC tea, or if you prefer black, green, or white tea, one thing is certain – tea is a beverage that has stood the test of time and will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.

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