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It"s believed in China, that tea drinking was discovered in China, when a weary emperor, Shen Nong, was resting between battles in 2737 BC when a leaf fell into his pot of boiling water. One taste of the resulting brew and the emperor was hooked. The masses, in China, didn"t take to tea drinking until the 7th century AD.
A young Chinese monk, Lu Yu, invented the tea ceremony and wrote The Book of Tea, the bible of Chinese tea lovers. A cup of tea, in China, still commands great reverence.
Tea was probably also consumed by Asian nomads (inhabiting what is now Northern China) - who made it by boiling up the leaves with milk and butter, although for many centuries millet wine remained the most popular beverage. It seems to have been in this form that the Russians (ardent tea drinkers) first encountered it almost 900 years later.
In the mean time, it had swept South-West China with its popularity in the second part of the 8th century; the Chinese never putting milk in it - but strangely enough sometimes added clotted cream (su) or Chinese pepper (fagara), salt, ginger and even onions .
By the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), there were a great many varieties, some flavoured with ginger or tangerine peel and some esteemed for their leaf shape. For its consumption beautiful tea cups, made of porcelain, were de-rigueur among the upper classes.
It was the Dutch East India Company that first brought tea to Europe in 1609; but England"s East India Company (chartered by Elizabeth 1, in 1600) soon established a monopoly.
It was slow to catch on in Britain, however, in September 1658, the following advertisement appeared in London"s "Mercurious Politicus":
"That excellent and by all Physitians approved China Drink called by the Chineans Tcha, by other nations Tay, alias Tee, is sold at the Sultaness Head, a cophee-house in Sweetings Rents, by the Royal Exchange, London"
Samuel Pepys, writing in his Diary two years later, recorded that "I did send for a cup of tea, a China dtink of which I never had drunk before".
Most tea came from China until the 19th century, and it came in increasing quantities in the three-masted "Tea Wagons" of the East ndia Company. Over 4,000 tons a year by the 1760"s - all taxed by the Crown.
In 1823, plantations were established in upper Assam in Northern India; but for many years China remained the largest source.