Tea. Native to Southeast Asia and Southern China, leaves of the tea tree, camellia sinensis, were probably chewed raw long before recorded in history. One story says that over 4,700 years ago a Chinese emperor named Shennong, whose name means “divine farmer”, discovered how to make a tea infusion when a wind blew leaves from a nearby bush into the water he was boiling.

Did You Know? Tea bricks were used as a form of currency from 9th to 20th century in China, Mongolia, Siberia, Tibet, Turkmenistan and Russia.

Before the 1500s, NPR writes: “The first tea leaves weren’t drunk in loose form; instead, they were compressed into cakes. To prepare tea, early drinkers had to tear off a piece of the compressed brick (often stamped with intricate patterns, and so valuable that it could be used in lieu of currency), roast it and tear it into even smaller pieces.”

“Making tea bricks requires different stages. Tea leaves are dried in the sun first. Then they are taken off of their stem and finally, sifted to be separated from one another. The leaves are put in a bag, steamed over boiling water and fermented, whereas the twigs are crushed. The whole is then cast in a metal mold. At this stage, the tea brick is regularly moistened with rice-water to avoid air bubbles. Beef blood, dung or flour is also added to act as a binder and to maintain the brick in its initial form. Finally, before being used, the brick is put through fire and aged.” —NBB Museum

The 1500s saw the invention and use of teapots, the first of which came from the Yi-Xing region of China and were soon copied throughout the world became common. During this time, tea had taken on the form of rolled leaves.

Upon reaching Europe in the 1600s, tea wares were modified to suit the English; adding handles to tea cups,  enlarging them even to accommodate the the use of milk and sugar.

In 1900s America, tea merchant Thomas Sullivan unintentionally commercialized the tea bag which used to package customers orders. Upon receipt, they’d put the them directly into their teapots.

Interested in learning more about tea? There’s the “High Tea: Glorious Manifestations East and West” taking place at the Norton Museum of Art through May 24. Alternatively you can attend a Sado Tea Ceremony at Morikami Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, where you’ll learn to perform traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

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