Tea has been the world’s favorite beverage for more than 5,000 years. Across five millennia - from the FIRST accident to the FIRST advertisement, from the FIRST blend to the FIRST book and from the FIRST reference to the FIRST recipe, the history of Tea has been as enduring as it has been enticing.


We revisit tea’s incredible journey with its unexpected twists and unintended turns, recounting its memorable moments and momentous milestones. We revel at tea's enduring and endearing metamorphosis that has made it as appealing and alluring today as it was 5,000 years ago. 


Steep yourself a cup of Oolong Tea or Earl Grey, Chai Tea, or Muscatel Darjeeling…and join us as we lovingly pour an exquisite brew of history, tradition and style of Tea FIRST.Tea FIRSTs.

Origin and the Early Years in China

  • 2,737 BC : Legend has it that Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, notices some leaves that have accidentally fallen in a cauldron of boiling water giving off a pleasant aroma. He takes a sip and is surprised at its delightful taste.

The leaves were from a tree we now know as Camellia Sinensis, and the drink is what we now call TEA!


  • 206 BC - 220 AD : FIRST known containers of tea found in tombs dating back to the Hun dynasty

  • 350 AD : FIRST time tea is mention of tea in a Chinese dictionary mentions as Erh Ya

  • Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD) : FIRST instance of tea became being established as China’s national drink

    • 725 AD :  Chinese give tea its own character - ch’a  茶

    • 760 – 762 AD : Cha’ Ching (The Tea Classic) - the FIRST book on tea was written by Tao Lu Yu

    • 780 AD : the FIRST tax on tea is imposed in China

    • 805 AD : FIRST time tea travel to Japan with monks who came to China to study Buddhism, introduced Tea to Japan.

    • Late 15th century : the Japanese Tea Ceremony emerges. With its roots in the Cha’Ching and called Cha-no’yu, it literally means “hot water tea” 

        Tea Arrives in the West


        • 1560 : Father Jasper de Cruz, a Portuguese Jesuit, FIRST introduce tea to Europe

        • 1598 : Dutch traveller Jan Hugo van Lin-schooten, noted in a book about his adventures that the Indians ate tea leaves as a vegetable with garlic and oil and boiled the leaves to make a brew - he called the beverage CHAA

        • 16th Century : The Dutch who FIRST shipped a commercial lot of tea to Europe

        • 1657 : The FIRST sale of tea in Britain was done by the East India Company as it undercut the Dutch prices

        • 1658 : The republican newspaper Mercurius Politicus carries the FIRST advert for tea in the British isles, announcing “That Excellent, and by all Physicians approved, Chinadrink, called by the Chinese, Tcha, by other nations Tay alias Tee, ...sold at the Sultaness-head, ye Cophee-house in Sweetings-Rents, by the Royal ExchangeLondon". Teas was advertised as a panacea for apoplexy, catarrh, colic, consumption, drowsiness, gallstones, lethargy, paralysis, and vertigo!

        • 1661 : Queen Catherine of Braganza married Charles II, comes to England and makes tea fashionable in the courtly and aristocratic circles in Britain

        • 1664 : The FIRST shipment of Tea to by the East India Company who placed an order for 100 lbs of China Tea to be shipped from Java into Britain

        • 1689 : The FIRST TAX on TEA introduced in Britain - 25p per lb - almost stopping all tea sales

        • 1679 : The FIRST tea was sold in London Tea Auction. Auctions were then held on a quarterly basis and teas were “sold by candle”- the time taken for each tea to be sold was 1 inch of the burning candle!

        • 1707 : Tea is FIRST served by Thomas Twining at Tom’s Coffee House in London - the FIRST tea room in the world!

        • 1717 : Tom’s Coffee House evolves into Golden Lyon – the FIRST teashop in the world

        • In 1834, the London Auctions shifted to Mincing Lane, and in a few years, all merchants establishments had their offices in Mincing Lane, and it came to be known as the “ Street of Tea” (the grand tradition of London Tea Auction ended on 29th June, 1998).

        India Enters...And Changes the Game

        • 1823 : Robert Bruce is told by a local trader in Assam - Maniram Bora, about a native variety of tea plant growing in the present day state of Assam in India 

        • 1824 : Robert Bruce dies in the First Anglo-Burmese war, but had fortunately confided about native tea plants growing in Assam to his brother, Charles

        • 1825 : Charles sends tea plants from Assam to The Botanic Garden at Calcutta, where they are rejected for not being tea!

        • 1831 : Andrew Charlton reports back the Tea Committee in Calcutta that native tea trees are abundantly in Jorhat, and sends samples again to the Botanical Garden in Calcutta

        • 1834 : On the eve Christmas, the Tea Committee announces that the tea shrubs are "beyond all doubt" indigenous tea plants from Upper Assam

        • 1837 : The FIRST tea plantation was started in Assam using the native Assam bushes (named Camellia Sinensis Assamica) at Chabua in Upper Assam

        • 1838 : The FIRST eight chests of manufactured tea from indigenous Assam leaf were shipped to London and sold at the London Tea Auction. The East India Company wrote to Assam to say that the teas had been well received by some "houses of character", and there was a similar response to the next shipment, some buyers declaring it "excellent"

        • 1839 : The FIRST tea company is the world is set up by a deed of the British Parliament and is named - The Assam Company

        • 1845 : The Assam Company becomes the FIRST company to be awarded the Royal Charter by Queen Victoria

        • 1851 : Robert Fortune manages to smuggle 10,000 tea seeds, 13,000 plants and saplings and experts from China and lands on the banks of river Hoogly in Bengal Province of India

        • 1852 : The FIRST Darjeeling tea estate was planted at Tukvar

        • 1853 : Dr. Archibald Campbell reports that the Chinese tea bushes he had planted in his home garden in Darjeeling were thriving at altitudes of 2000 feet to 7000 feet – this was the beginning of the world famous Champagne of Teas - Darjeeling

        • 1859 : The FIRST tea factory in Darjeeling is started at the world famous Makaibari tea estate – this factory is still going strong!

            Tea Continues Captivating the West

            • 1826 : The FIRST tea is retailed in sealed packages under proprietary name by English quaker John Horniman

            • 1836 : Jacksons of Piccadilly introduce Earl Grey Tea - “to fulfil wishes of a former Earl Grey”

            • 1840 : Afternoon Tea is introduced by Duchess Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford

            • 1849 : Henry Charles Harrod of 49 Eastcheap takes over a grocery shop at 8 Brompton Road, London, that will grow to become the world’s largest departmental store - Harrods!

            • 1850 : The FIRST Tea Clipper - The Oriental, arrives at London from Hong Kong after a 97 day voyage, carrying 1600 tonnes of Chinese Tea

            • 1865 : The Langham becomes the FIRST hotel to start an Afternoon Tea service

            • 1870 : Twinings starts blending tea for the FIRST time for uniformity

            • 1876 : Thomas J. Lipton opens his FIRST grocery shop in Glasgow

            • 1876 : The FIRST ever printed recipe for non-sweet iced teas is found in The Buckeye Cookbook by Estelle Woods Wilcox

            • 1879 : The FIRST printed recipe for sweet iced tea in Housekeeping In Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree

            • 1888 : The FIRST commercial plantation of tea is started in the USA at Pinehurst Tea Plantation in South Carolina, known today as Charleston Tea Plantation

            • 1893 : Thomas J. Lipton registers a new trade-mark for tea he has been selling in packages since 1890. Over the facsimile signature “ Thomas J Lipton, Tea Planter, Ceylon”, Lipton prints the words “non genuine without this signature”

            • 1901 : Two women from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Roberta C. Lawson and Mary Molaren apply for a patent for  “Tea-Leaf Holder” - this is the FIRST mesh tea bag

            •  1904 : Thomas Sullivan, a New York grocer, also 'accidentally' invents the tea bag when he sends samples of his tea blends to his customers in hand-made muslin bags

            • 1904 : Richard Blechynden, the India Tea Commissioner and Director for the East India Pavilion at the World’ Fair in St. Louis, adds blocks of ice to hot tea, and 'accidentally' popularises Iced Tea

            • 1922 : Bai Mudan or White Tea Peony is developed in Fujian in China

            • 1929 : The FIRST Tea-Bag packing machine was invented by Adolf Rambold

            • 1930 : The FIRST CTC machine is in installed at Amgoorie Tea Estate in Assam by its inventor, Sir William McKercher

            • 1953 : White Rose Redi-Tea is introduced by New York’s SEEMAN BROS. – the world’s FIRST instant tea

            • 1968 : The FIRST Bai Mudan teas are exported to the West

            • 1985 : The FIRST Muscatel tea was made at Castleton tea estate in Darjeeling

            • 2001 : The FIRST tea estate in the UK is started at Tregothnan Tea Estate in Cornwall

            • 2005 : Tregothnan Tea Estate releases its FIRST tea blend

            From those few humble leaves that accidentally brewed in a cauldron of boiling water 5,000 years ago to over 25,000 cups being brewed every second, tea has certainly come a long way. The world's oldest beverage is even more popular than it was in medieval China and even more fashionable as it was in Victorian England. 


            Tea's journey continues...conquering more homes and more hearts across the world!


                About the Author :

                Ketan Desai | Chief Educator |  ketan@vahdamteas.com


                Ketan Desai is the Chief Educator at VAHDAM Teas. After a brief stint with the family tea business, Ketan went on to work with some of the top tea planters, tasters, blenders and marketers across India, Sri Lanka, Russia and the CIS countries, the UK, Bangladesh, Indonesia  and Africa. 

                A seasoned tea-taster and a passionate raconteur, Ketan conducts tea workshops and events, regaling participants with amusing stories while explaining the finer nuances of tea during live tasting sessions.

                At VAHDAM Teas, Ketan spearheads content and community initiatives. He leads TEAch Me, VAHDAM’s social initiative on education of children at tea estates.

                Ketan's favourite tea is Darjeeling First Flush, which he prefers to have without milk or sugar. He can be contacted at @ketdes on twitter or at ketan@vahdamteas.com

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