By Michael McGrath
Camellia Sinesis, or tea, has been consumed for thousands of years, originally in China but eventually all around the world. In China, it is called cha. It is the second most widely used beverage in the world, after water.
It originated in China as a medicinal drink. It made its way to Europe in the 18th century, having been introduced to Portuguese merchants and priests in China.
In around 1750, tea plants were taken from China to the Azores, where they were planted and grown, along with Mallow and Jasmine, also from China. Tea is still grown on the islands today.
The tea plant is native to south and east Asia but now tea is grown widely, from Australia to Cornwall in England, from the USA to India. It has many components: catechins, which are antioxidants; stimulants, such as theobromine and xanthanides (also found in coffee); polyphenols and tannins.
There are many types, including black tea, popular in the West, white tea, yellow tea, green tea and oolong.
Having started as a medicinal beverage, tea soon began to be used on its own with boiled water as a stimulating, if bitter, beverage.
China had a monopoly on the production of tea until the British introduced tea production to India, from where it was shipped to Britain. When Charles II married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, the drinking of tea became very popular at court in England and the East India Company brought many new products back from India, one of which was tea.
By the middle of the 18th century, tea had become increasingly popular, mainly with the aristocracy and the price of tea was deliberately allowed to be hyped and heavy import duties were introduced, primarily to provide valuable revenue for the Government.
This made it possible for poor people to afford. It was, in effect, the drink of the elite, the aristocratic class and the rich merchant class.
Tea was promoted as a precious, and indeed, rare beverage, at least by the Government, for obvious fiscal reasons.
Tea was taken sweet, by the addition of sugar, and there was also a sharp rise in the importation of sugar between 1690 and 1750.