by Lillian Csernica on April 23, 2018
In the early 600s AD, tea was introduced to Japan through contact between Zen priests and Chinese Buddhist monks. The Japanese Zen priest, Saichō returned to Japan in 815 after many years spent in China. He brought with him compressed tea bricks and tea seeds, which he presented to the reigning Emperor Saga. Interest in tea remained guarded and centered solely around the court and its high-ranking officials for several centuries, until the Japanese Heian era of 794-1185.
During this time, the Japanese Samurai class rose to power, along with a flourishing of the arts and intellectual pursuits, tea drinking among them. The Zen priest, Myoan Eisai introduced Chinese tea seeds and bushes to the island of Kyushu, and they were then transported to the outskirts of modern day Kyoto, where some of Japan’s finest teas are produced to this day. After many subsequent visits to China and a deep immersion in the tea culture, Eisai wrote, Kissa Yōjōki, translated as, “Drinking Tea for Health,” lauding the medicinal and health benefits of the ancient beverage. Many other writers poetically connected tea to the changing seasons and landscape.
From Britain Express:
Curiously, it was the London coffee houses that were responsible for introducing tea to England. One of the first coffee house merchants to offer tea was Thomas Garway, who owned an establishment in Exchange Alley. He sold both liquid and dry tea to the public as early as 1657. Three years later he issued a broadsheet advertising tea at six and ten pounds per pound (ouch!), touting its virtues at “making the body active and lusty”, and “preserving perfect health until extreme old age”.
Tea gained popularity quickly in the coffee houses, and by 1700 over 500 coffee houses sold it. This distressed the tavern owners, as tea cut their sales of ale and gin, and it was bad news for the government, who depended upon a steady stream of revenue from taxes on liquor sales. By 1750 tea had become the favoured drink of Britain’s lower classes.
Ironic, isn’t it? What first began as the ceremonial beverage of the upper class traveled around the world to become the daily drink of the common people. I love history!