A good cup of tea is our favourite beverage here in the UK (and only second to coffee in many other western countries) however, how much do we really know about the origins of tea or about the different types of a plant that cannot even be grown here in the cooler climates of the British Isles?
Well, it will not come as a surprise to many that tea is thought to have originated in China in the Yunnan Province, located in the south-west of this enormous country, at some point during the Shang Dynasty between 1500BC and 1046BC. Originally grown and consumed as a medicinal drink, the first record of tea drinking is dated in a medicinal text in the 3rd century AD.
After being introduced to Portuguese priests and merchants that visited China in the 16th century, it then began to become a popular beverage in Britain the following century and was later introduced to India, where it was grown in order to compete with the Chinese production. Today, the cultivation of tea is still an important source of income for both countries with more still being produced in China than in India.
There are at least six different types of tea that are commonly cultivated today which are white tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong tea, red tea and black tea with tea plants normally taking between four and twelve years to reach the point where they begin to seed and can then reproduce. Although single teas can today be found, the majority of tea in bags in the western world are now blends.
Even with the increased popularity of coffee, 165 million cups of tea are consumed in Britain every day, with around 96% of this coming from a tea bag and 98% being drunk with milk. And, despite our reputation of being the biggest tea drinking nation in the world, that crown actually goes to the Republic of Ireland then followed by the UK.