There’s a good chance you’re a tea lover and are either sipping a cup right now, already have, or will soon. That’s because of this fun fact: every day, we humans consume over 2.16 billion cups of tea! That’s around 25,000 every second.
Despite this crazy popularity, however, have you ever wondered about the history of tea and why it’s so popular? More importantly, are you missing out on a special opportunity every time you make a cup?
The Fascinating History of Tea & Tea Lovers
We consume so many cups of this warm comforting beverage, but very few of us consider where it began.
First off, did you know that traditionally, making, serving, and sipping tea was intended to be part of a formal tea ceremony? It was known as Chadō, or The Way of Tea, and was first performed as a humble midday ritual, to find mindful pleasure in this everyday task.
But it didn’t start there.
The practice of preparing tea came to be in the 9th century, thanks to a small group of Zen Buddhist monks traveling back from China to their monastery in Japan. The monks brought a plant by the name of camellia sinensis, because they found that, due to its caffeine, it had improved their ability to sustain their meditation practice while in China.
This tea was not the tea we know today. It was fermented and roasted, but not in bags. Instead, it was made in bricks that would be sanded off to make a cup!
It was also intended as a medicinal treatment, rather than the cozy, comforting, everyday beverage we know today. To enhance its medicinal properties, the monks would sometimes add spices, herbs, or salt to the tea.
Fast forward a few centuries and a Buddhist monk named Eisai brought more tea back from yet another trip to China. This time it was in the form of a bright green, unfermented powder.
The Japanese monks preferred this new bright green tea, and began growing it themselves. Unlike the black fermented teas, they would pick it at the beginning of May, steaming, drying and packing it into sealed earthenware jars for 6 months, thereafter grinding it into a fine, bright green powder. And thus, matcha was born.
The shift to matcha transformed the tea ritual from something that just caffeinated the monks and kept them upright and meditating, to a ritualized preparation shared by nobility and the samurai warrior classes.
Everyone wanted to drink and experience the ritual as the practice helped improve focus, and the fact that it took a seemingly everyday act, and morphed it into something spectacular and special. The ritual also became an opportunity to connect with others, sometimes through 4-day poetry, song, and dance events!
The Evolution of the Tea Ritual
As tea grew in popularity, it got a bit fetishized, expensive, and moved away from the core of what had started as a sacred ritual.
But it also became a bit more accessible, because, really, who has four days to enjoy their tea? Another, arguably wiser Zen Buddhist named Sen O Rikyu established the more accessible and now commonly practiced iteration of the tea ceremony, what is called Wabicha, beginning in 1522.
He stressed that tea practice should be accessible and available to everyone since we are all human and all deserve the same respect and beauty. Rather than the luxurious, imported Korean and Chinese utensils that had become commonplace, he only used handmade, everyday utensils, showing that this ritual was open to all.
And it is this more open and accessible practice that opened the world to tea. Along the way, however, this accessibility has led us to lose touch with the ritual that is meant to be at the core of drinking tea. But it needn’t be left lost.
Today, you can still nurture the practice of tea ritual, but without the need for razzle-dazzle, a time-consuming process, or fancy tools. You just need to approach it as a mindful activity. The practice of enjoying a tea ritual allows for a meditative experience amid the craziness of our modern culture.
It’s easy to do so.
Just find a tea that you love – I’m a big fan of Club Magic Hour’s Ceremonial Grade Matcha – and set aside some time to revel in your tea ritual. Observe each step, from the sound of the kettle, to the steam pouring out of its spout, to the aroma of the tea as it meets the water. Settling into a seat, place the tea before you and slowly savor and consider each sip. If you prefer a guided meditation approach, you can also try this tea meditation: