Tea: Origins

Dear reader,

On last July ago I wrote a small article about the origin of coffee, the favourite drink of most Brazilians, like this amateur writer  😉 This time, however, I will try to write a short review about the origin of tea, definitely the most consumed drink in the world, after water of course! 🙂

Tea plants are native to East Asia. According to Wikipedia (Tea) “some studies indicate that likely a single place of origin exists for Camellia sinensis (a species of evergreen shrub or small tree whose leaves and leaf buds are used to produce tea), i.e., an area including the northern part of Burma, and southwest part of China (Yunnan and Sichuan provinces). Tea drinking may have begun in the Yunnan region during the Shang Dynasty in China, when it was used for medicinal purposes.” Also, “the earliest known physical evidence of tea was discovered in 2016 in the mausoleum of Emperor Jing of Han in Xi’an, indicating that tea was drunk by Han Dynasty emperors as early as the 2nd century BC. It was popularized as a recreational drink during the Chinese Tang dynasty, spread later to other East Asian countries. Portuguese priests and merchants introduced it to Europe during the 16th century. During the 17th century, drinking tea became fashionable among Britons, who started large-scale production and commercialization of the plant in India to bypass the Chinese monopoly.”

Tea plantation in Anshun city, Guizhou province in southwest China

Tea leaves (Camellia sinensis species)

Also, “the etymology of tea can be traced back to the various Chinese pronunciations of the word. Nearly all the words for tea worldwide, fall into three broad groups: te, cha and chai, which reflected the history of transmission of tea drinking culture and trade from China to countries around the world. The Chinese character for tea is 茶, originally written with an extra stroke as 荼 (pronounced , used as a word for a bitter herb), and acquired its current form during the Tang Dynasty. The word is pronounced differently in the different varieties of Chinese, such as chá in Mandarin, zo and dzo in Wu Chinese, and ta and te in Min Chinese. One suggestion is that the different pronunciations may have arisen from the different words for tea in ancient China, for example (荼) may have given rise to ; historical phonologists however argued that the cha, te and dzo all arose from the same root with a reconstructed pronunciation dra, which changed due to sound shift through the centuries. There were other ancient words for tea, though ming (茗) is the only other one still in common use” (Etymology of tea).

In my native country, Brazil, we say chá and here in Japan people say ocha ( or おちゃ).  😉

It’s worthwhile to mention here that the tea production in Brazil has strong roots due to the country’s origins in Portugal, the strong presence of Japanese immigrants and also because of the influences of their neighbour’s yerba mate culture. Brazil had a big tea production until the 80s, but it has weakened in the past decades. Right now, there’s only a few families trying to reorganize the tea production, facing strong competition against cheap prices from tea producers in Asia and also against coffee companies!  😦

On the other hand, here in Japan tea was brought in a very long time ago! As mentioned in another Wikipedia entry (History of tea), “tea became a drink of the religious classes when Japanese priests and envoys, sent to China to learn about its culture, brought tea to Japan. Ancient recordings indicate the first batch of tea seeds were brought by a priest named Saichō in 805 and then by another named Kūkai in 806. It became a drink of the royal classes when Emperor Saga, the Japanese emperor, encouraged the growth of tea plants. Seeds were imported from China, and cultivation in Japan began. In 1191, the famous Zen priest Eisai brought back tea seeds to Kyoto. The oldest tea speciality book in Japan, Kissa Yōjōki (in English its title would be “How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea”), was written by Eisai. The two-volume book was written in 1211 after his second and last visit to China. The first sentence states, “Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete.” Eisai was also instrumental in introducing tea consumption to the warrior class, which rose to political prominence after the Heian Period. Green tea became a staple among cultured people in Japan – a brew for the gentry and the Buddhist priesthood alike. Production grew and tea became increasingly accessible, though still a privilege enjoyed mostly by the upper classes. The tea ceremony of Japan was introduced from China in the 15th century by Buddhists as a semi-religious social custom. The modern tea ceremony was developed over several centuries by Zen Buddhist monks.”

Finally, the picture below shows the best regions in the world to plant and harvest tea. Not surprisingly most of places are located in Asia, especially in China, with some exceptions like Argentina and South Africa:

The world’s best places for tea cultivation

I hope you have enjoyed this introductory article about tea. In a near future I will definitely write about production and types of tea as well, so stay tuned!  😉

Works Cited

  • “Tea” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 November 2017. Web. 30 November 2017.
  • “History of tea” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 November 2017. Web. 30 November 2017.
  • “Etymology of tea” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 September 2017. Web. 30 November 2017.

Coffee: Origins

Dear reader,

Four months ago I wrote a short article about coffee and tea, where I just commented how popular they’re in my native country, Brazil, and here in Japan where I’ve been living for almost twenty years..

Now I intend to write a short review describing the origins of coffee, basically where it came from and when it was introduced in Brazil, Japan and other parts of the world (I also intend to write a similar article related to tea in a near future).

According to the Wikipedia “coffee dates back to the 10th century, and possibly earlier with a number of reports and legends surrounding its first use. The native (undomesticated) origin of coffee is thought to have been Ethiopia. The earliest substantiated evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree is from the 15th century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. Coffee was primarily consumed in the Islamic world where it originated and was directly related to religious practices. By the 16th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, South India, Persia, Turkey, and Africa. It then spread to the Balkans, Italy and to the rest of Europe, to South East Asia and then to America.”

Sufi monasteries of Yemen: the first evidence of coffee drinking!

It’s also very interesting to understand the its meaning: “The word “coffee” entered the English language in 1582 via the Dutch koffie, borrowed from the Turkish kahve, in turn borrowed from the Arabic qahwah ( قهوة). The word qahwah originally referred to a type of wine, whose etymology is given by Arab lexicographers as deriving from the verb qahā (قها, “to lack hunger”) in reference to the drink’s reputation as an appetite suppressant. The word qahwah is sometimes alternatively traced to the Arabic quwwa (“power, energy”), or to Kaffa, a medieval kingdom in Ethiopia whence the plant was exported to Arabia.”

Made in Ethiopia: probably the first origin of coffee!

The first coffee bush in my native country, Brazil,  was planted by Francisco de Melo Palheta, a Portuguese military man, in the state of Pará (north of Brazil) in 1727. According to the Wikipedia, “the Portuguese were looking for a cut of the coffee market, but could not obtain seeds from bordering French Guiana due to the governor’s unwillingness to export the seeds. Palheta was sent to French Guiana on a diplomatic mission to resolve a border dispute. On his way back home, he managed to smuggle the seeds into Brazil by seducing the governor’s wife who secretly gave him a bouquet spiked with seeds!”  😉

Here in Japan “coffee was introduced by Dutch people in the 17th century, but didn’t become popular due to the trade restrictions that were lifted only in 1858. However, during the early 1930s there were over 30,000 coffee houses across the country; availability in the wartime and immediate postwar period dropped to nearly zero, then rapidly increased as import barriers were removed.”

It’s interesting to mention that “the introduction of freeze-dried instant coffee, canned coffee, and franchises such as Starbucks and Doutor Coffee in the late 20th century” increased the coffee popularity here at this side of the world to the point that Japan is now one of the leading per capita coffee consumers in the world! 🙂

Finally, the picture below shows how coffee was also spread to other parts of the world. It’s interesting to see the distribution pattern across the continents:

Historic distribution of coffee around the world

If you don’t mind I will take a cup of instant coffee with some powder milk right now since it’s still early in the morning and I’m very tired (slept only five hours last night!)  😉

See you around next month!  🙂

Works Cited

“History of Coffee.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 July 2017. Web. 30 June 2017.