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Tea Time: How Tea Has Shaped the World


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In almost every culture around the world and throughout time, tea has played a role in social bonding, religion, and comfort. Every corner of the world has its own attachment to tea, in Lousiana, it comes in the form of some sweet southerner quenching your thirst with the best-iced tea you’ve ever had, while in Ireland it comes in the form of haggling with an old woman about tea you said you didn’t want but you will be given anyway. It’s a strange thing the world has grown to love, nothing more than leaves with a little hot water, despite its simplicity tea has lasted the test of time.

The introduction of tea dates back to 2737 BC when Chinese Emporer Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree and a few leaves from the tree blew into his cup of boiled water, and the rest is history. To this day tea is still an extremely important aspect of Chinese culture, it is highly valued for its medicinal uses, unique taste, and inexpensiveness. It is popular in certain Chinese cultures to add tea leaves to food in order to add nutrients and drink tea after a meal in order to aid in digestion. It was also used as an antidote to certain poisons including nicotine, tea has been proven to lower levels of oxidative stress that are increased after smoking, and can lead to cancer. Tea is actually used as an interesting form of detoxing when it comes to smoking not only because of its ability to expel certain toxins from the body but green tea can also aid in the repair of certain tissues that are damaged from smoking. However, before its modern-day medical uses, green tea was actually used as a form of currency in 350 AD China. The tea would be condensed into small bricks and could be used to barter and trade for various goods.

Sketch of Emperor Shen Nung

While the history of tea in Irish, Enlgish or American cultures might not be as sophisticated it still plays an extremely important role within these societies. Although, the importance of tea in America might not be as long and whimsical as that of China, and did start on a rather bitter note with 300 chests of tea being dumped into the Boston harbour, we have come a long way. While tea is certainly less popular here than it is in Europe, I don’t know any southerner that could live without a glass of iced tea on a hot day. What makes European and American tea consumption so different from Chinese, Japonese and Indian tea consumption is the societal importance within each culture. In the western world tea is used primarily as a source of bonding and a drink that is had during family gatherings, at restaurants and commonly at funerals, while in certain eastern cultures tea is used in a more profound and even religious sense.

David Bowie drinking tea

Tea is quite a magical thing, simple in its creation but important to no end in its uses. From healing the sick and comforting the grieving, tea is appropriate in just about every situation. In fact tea is so universally loved that during my research for this article I came across some amazing poetry about everyone’s favorite leafy water;

Teatime Poem

When the world is all at odds, and the mind is all at sea.
Then cease the useless tedium, and brew a cup of tea.
There is magic in its fragrance, there is solace in its taste.
And the laden moments vanish, somehow into space.
The world becomes a lovely thing, there’s beauty as you’ll see.
All becuase you briefly stopped to brew a cup of tea. ~ Anonymous

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