Tea drinking originated in China and the word tea is derived from t’e of the Chinese Fukien dialect. The Dutch introduced it to Europe. In Cantonese, tea is known as Ch’a and this is the name by which this wonderful beverage came to be known in Japan, India, Russia, Iran and the Middle East. The first authentic reference to tea was made in an ancient Chinese dictionary revised by Kuo P’o, a celebrated Chinese scholar in AD 350. At that time a medicinal decoction was made by boiling tea leaves. Use of tea as a beverage commenced towards the close of the sixth century. During the two succeeding centuries tea gained enormous popularity. The first exclusive book on tea, Ch’a Ching meaning ‘Tea classic’ by the Chinese tea expert Lu Yu was published in AD 780 in which he has described various kinds of tea, their cultivation and manufacturing in China.
However, apart from Japan, tea drinking did not spread to other parts of the world until about the middle of the seventeenth century. The opening of a sea route to India and the East by the Portuguese in 1497 facilitated large-scale trading between Europe and the Oriental countries. Other European nations soon followed the Portuguese in establishing trade centres in different countries of the East. The Dutch in Java established one such depot. They bought tea from Japan and the first consignment was transhipped from Java to Europe in 1610. This marked the beginning of the lucrative tea trade between Europe and the East. The Dutch dominated the tea trade for more than a century finally yielding to the British. China was the sole supplier of tea to Europe till the middle of the nineteenth century.
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