Arguably, one of the most popular beverages in the world, tea has a rich and varied history across the globe. It started out as a medicinal drink in most countries, but slowly gained popularity as a leisure drink. While the transition from medicine to beverage was made smoothly in some countries, the ride was bumpy in a few, with tea losing its popularity due to some sinister facts that emerged during different eras in different countries.
Some fascinating facts about tea are:
Around 165 million cups of tea are drunk each day, 95 per cent of which are from tea bags
Shen Nung, a toxicologist, discovered it by accident in central China around 2737 BC. Apart from thinking it a nice drink, he used tea as an antidote to 70 or so poisonous herbs. His stomach exploded after his final experiment because the tea obviously wasn't effective against that particular herb.
Catherine of Braganza, queen of Charles II, introduced it to England as part of her dowry; when she landed at Portsmouth in 1662 she asked for a calming cup of tea; none could be found so we gave her a flagon of beer instead.
In China they used monkeys to pluck loose leaf tea from the trees: annoy the monkeys up in the trees and they will angrily shake the branches bringing the tea floating down to you.
In the 17th century Dr Simon Paulli, a German, warned that tea-drinking ‘hastens death', particularly in the over-forties. His claim was, however, soon disregarded, much like his other studies.
Ireland has the highest per capita consumption of tea in the world: 75 per cent of the population are avid tea drinkers drinking on average six cups a day. In 1910 tea was considered to be a bigger public health problem than alcohol in Ireland. Russia ranks second in tea drinking – presumably to dilute the effects of vodka.
Britain became a nation of tea drinkers due to the monopoly held by the East India Company on China tea and our exclusion from the Mediterranean Sea and the coffee exporting countries bordering it during our wars with France and Spain.
High taxation meant that tea was often adulterated with brick dust and other toxic stuff (second hand tea) ; some tea contained no tea at all. For most of its history more tea has been smuggled than sold legitimately.
John Wesley, founder of Methodism and a tea-totaller, believed that tea brought us close to the ‘chambers of death' and should be avoided, even though he imbibed himself.
Tea was responsible for the rise of the women's suffragette movement; tea rooms such as ABC and Lyons gave them somewhere respectable to go un-chaperoned.
In 1914 the 320,000 men and 12,000 officers of the Army Service Corps were catering for 5 million British troops – their ration included 5/8 oz of tea. In 1940 Churchill said that ‘tea was more important than bullets'
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