Initially the secret of tea was held within Chinese borders. Tea plants were primarily cultivated by monks in Buddhist monasteries. It was not just used a drink, but an important part of Zen Buddhism ceremonies.


When Zen Buddhism spread to Japan, so did the popularity of tea. In the 12th century, a large amount of tea plants were imported from China. It started a whole new tea culture in Japan, where the health benefits of tea-drinking is still an important part of Japanese life today. Japan only produce varieties of Green Tea.


But explorers and missionaries who worked in China brought home stories about a slightly bitter beverage that people in China drank. It was also assumed that this mysterious “tea” contributed to health and longevity.

Once the cat was out of the bag, offers that the Chinese could not refuse were made so slowly but steadily the tea leaves started their quest to concern the world.

Batavia Tea Warehouse

In the 14th century, the Portuguese started to bring tea to the West. The Dutch also played a major part, and took over the entire tea business when in 1602 an alliance between the Portuguese and Dutch royal families came to an end. The Portuguese traded from the Chinese Macao, the Dutch directed their trade from Java.


The tea for Europe was transported on ships. Russia’s tea trade, started in 1618 after the Chinese ambassador in Moscow had presented Czar Alexis with several chests of tea, was done by caravans of hundreds of camels. The Russians appreciated a hot, energy-giving drink in their cold and harsh winters.


Peter Stuyvesant, Governor General of New Netherland in America, had sent tea to Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam in 1650. New Amsterdam, of course, is now better know as New York, NY.

By now, tea was very expensive and heavily taxed – and thereby very politically charged. Starbucks may very well have been selling tea today, if it had not been for the “Boston Tea Party”.

Boston Tea Party

On the night of December 16, 1773, American patriots dumped 342 chests of tea bricks belonging to the British East India Company overboard from ships in the Boston harbour as a protest to the British taxes. This event is seen as one of the sparks starting the American revolution. More about the “Boston Tea Party“.

Tea – Drunk From Your Finest China

A common drink in China, it remained something decadent for quite some time in the West. Brought to Europe by the Portuguese (through Macao) and Dutch (from Java) it was an expensive luxury like silk and oriental spices. The aristocratic beverage was drunk from imported porcelain, used as ballast on the tradeships bringing teas, spices and silks. These porcelains were aptly named after its country of origin: China.

In the 19th century, the British helped to bring tea to the common man; trade volumes grew, as did competition, thereby leveling the playing field somewhat.