10 Teas That Influenced History
It seems strange to think that your morning cuppa has changed the very fabric of our society. How it has made cultures, seen the rise and fall of empires and saved thousands from destruction and despair.
Yet, your favourite beverage has done this - all of it - and more. We will be exploring ten Teas that influenced history in the following article. Please keep reading to find out more.
Each and every infusion mentioned below we stock here at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company. As such, you can be a part of history, too, all the while indulging in delicious flavours and health benefits.
Our establishment takes pride in packing them fresh to order, thus ensuring quality and consistency. But first, let’s explore the remarkable ways in which these Teas made their mark.
Table of contents
- Green Tea - the First “Real” Tea
- The Legacy of Green Tea
- Fennel Tea and the Battle of Marathon
- Legacy of Fennel Tea
- Nettle Tea - One of the Nine Sacred Herbs
- Legacy of Nettle Tea
- Vervain Tea and the Supernatural
- Legacy of Vervain Tea
- Yerba Mate and its Dark, Colonial History
- Legacy of Yerba Mate
- Lapsang Souchong - the First Black Tea
- Legacy of Lapsang Souchong
- Assam Tea Enables an Indian Tea Industry
- Legacy of Assam Tea
- Ceylon Tea - A Monument of Courage
- Legacy of Ceylon Tea
- Rosehip Tea Served a Role in the Second World War
- Legacy of Rosehip Tea
- Rooibos Tea and Dr Annique Theron’s Amazing Discovery
- Legacy of Rooibos Tea
Green Tea - the First “Real” Tea
What we know as “real” Tea comes from the Camellia sinensis (Tea) plant. It is from here we get the likes of Green, Black, White and Oolong Tea.
The difference between each one happens at the factory, whereby the leaves undergo unique processing methods. Their history, according to legend, dates back over 5,000 years to when an ancient Chinese Emperor named Shennong discovered Tea.
The story allegedly begins in 2737 BCE. Shennong, after a long day of experimenting with herbs, decided to rest under a strange, unknown tree.
He eventually fell asleep in the midday sun with a cup of boiling water by his side. While the Emperor dozed, a gust of wind came through the tree. Leaves fell to the ground - some of which landed in Shennong’s drink.
The leaves began to infuse with the water. When Shennong awoke, he discovered an unfamiliar and unmistakably greenish beverage next to him.
Intrigued, he decided to try it. The Emperor was delighted by the scent and delicious taste of what, of course, turned out to be a Cup of Green Tea. While only a mythical tale, Shennong’s supposed endeavours gave rise to a new era of Tea-drinking in China.
With Black Tea still centuries away from creation, Green Tea took the world by storm. In Japan, Matcha became a staple of society, followed eventually by Sencha and other Japanese Green Teas.
The 1773 Boston Tea Party, contrary to popular belief, involved a significant amount of this Tea being dumped into the harbour. This would be one of the sparks that led to the American Revolution (1775-1783.)
The Legacy of Green Tea
Today globally, 20% of the world's Tea drinkers choose Green Tea. It is surpassed only by Black Tea, which, upon its “invention,” became an infusion particularly popular in the west. Still, if it wasn’t for Green Tea, we wouldn’t have any other type.
There might not have been a United States of America without the Boston Tea Party, nor would China’s and Japan’s cultures be what they are now.
Green Tea also has something over Black Tea - its remarkable, unparalleled Green Tea Health Benefits. The latest evidence suggests that it can, among other qualities, promote weight loss, aid digestion and reduce the risk of developing a multitude of chronic conditions.
Every year, we learn something new about this extraordinary beverage and its capacity to improve life in small yet significant ways.
Fennel Tea and the Battle of Marathon
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a hardy, aromatic, perennial plant belonging to the Carrot (Apiaceae) family. It grows yellow flowers and feathery leaves, which, although native to the Mediterranean, have since spread across the world. When brewed, most recognise it for its distinct aromatic character, bold anise notes and herbaceous undertones.
Fennel Tea shares close ties with the history of humankind. The plant itself grew on the site of the infamous Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE. Such was its abundance there, in fact, that the decisive Greek victory over the invading Persian army took its name from this herb.
The word “Marathon” (μαραθώνας), translated from Greek, means “a place of Fennel.”
Famously, a young soldier called Pheidippides ran forty-two kilometres from Marathon to Athens to announce the outcome of the battle. He tragically collapsed and died after telling the good news, but his endeavours inspired the marathon sporting event closely associated with the Olympics.
The concept of running a marathon prevailed through the ages - thanks, in part, to this Tea
Legacy of Fennel Tea
The modern Olympics (or Olympic Games) are a series of international sporting events, featuring both summer and winter competitions, that have brought the world together.
They are about passion, dedication, unification, music, pain, suffering, the stories, the lives and so much more. One of the highlights, of course, is the marathon - a sport made legendary by a certain herb.
Choosing Fennel Tea Benefits is also an excellent choice in daily life. According to the latest scientific research, it helps breastfeeding mothers, combats heartburn, relieves menstrual cramps and even prevents colic.
Its wealth in vitamins, minerals and other antioxidants, meanwhile, ensure you’re drinking a truly nutritional beverage regardless of your ailments.
Nettle Tea - One of the Nine Sacred Herbs
The Common Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a perennial, flowering plant belonging to the Urticaceae family. Its name derives from the Anglo-Saxon word, “Noedl,” which means “needle.”
This almost certainly refers to the needle-like pain of its sting - a feeling most of us know all too well. While cursed by hikers, gardeners and children alike, it has earned its place as one of our 10 Teas that influenced history.
Archaeological digs have discovered light Nettle fibres in Denmark dating back to the European Bronze age (c. 2300-1200 BCE). In the “New World,” the Winnebago, Coastal Salish, Omaha, Cupeño and Menominee peoples once used it for clothing and fishing nets.
Other tribes consumed it for Nettle Tea Benefits, including to treat stomach pain and reduce fevers.
When it comes to British history, this herb played a part in the Roman invasion during the 1st century CE. Soldiers believed its sting stimulated tired, painful legs and aching backs after long marches through dismal weather.
The concept of urtication, whereby these men purposely stung their skin with Nettles, became commonplace throughout the legions.
The Romans were eventually replaced by the Saxons, who believed that the Nettle was one of the “Nine Sacred Herbs.” The others were Fennel, Camomile, Mugwort, Plantain, Watercress, Crab Apple, Chervil and, possibly, Cockspur Grass.
These ingredients combined, according to Saxon beliefs, could act as a treatment against poison and infection. Nowadays, Nettle Tea has potential in other areas.
Legacy of Nettle Tea
Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), a Scottish poet, once wrote: “I have eaten Nettles, I have slept in Nettle sheets, and I have dined off a Nettle Tablecloth.
The young and tender Nettle is an excellent potherb. The stalks of the old Nettle are as good as flax for making cloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought Nettle cloth more durable than any other species of linen.”
During the First and Second World Wars (1914-1918; 1939-1945), the fabric it created provided warm and durable clothing to soldiers serving overseas.
It later became better known for its Nettle Tea Benefits, which we now know alleviate hay fever and improve kidney function. Perhaps strangest of all, when brewed to perfection, it becomes an antidote to its own sting!
Vervain Tea and the Supernatural
Vervain (Verbena Officinalis) is a slender perennial plant that grows up to one metre high. It produces distinctive pale-lilac flowers and, when brewed, has an earthy, herbaceous flavour with bold astringent undertones.
Nicknames associated with it include “Enchanter’s Balm,” “Herb of the Cross,” “Herb of Grace,” “Devil’s Medicine,” “Ironweed” and “Juno’s Tears.”
It indeed has a close association with all things supernatural. The ancient Egyptians, for instance, believed it to come from the tears of their God, Isis. In Persia (modern-day Iran), meanwhile, people treated it as a sacred plant.
Then there were the Greeks and the Romans, who used it to purify their temples and bless their altars. When Christianity became widespread in Europe, Vervain adapted to the times.
Paganism held on for some time in Britain and Ireland, though, during which period Druids considered it vital to their cause. British soldiers carried it into battle for good luck throughout the dark ages.
Later, when the Vikings arrived, worshippers of Thor included Vervain in ceremonies and rituals for calling upon its mystical powers. Its colossal impact on folklore is therefore undeniable.
Legacy of Vervain Tea
We now use Vervain Tea Benefits less for the supernatural and more for its scientifically-proven qualities. However, the stories of ages past have ensured that this herb remained in our national psyche for over 2,000 years.
Without these tales, without these beliefs in its ability to bring victory on the battlefield and to ward away demons, where would it be? As such, it is one of our Ten Teas that influenced history.
But the future, too, looks bright for this beverage. Loose Vervain Tea is antispasmodic, antipyretic, diuretic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory.
When enjoyed as part of a healthy and active lifestyle, it improves sleep, reduces stress and anxiety, and even maintains the kidneys. Additionally, preliminary research alludes to the prospect of it fighting infections.
Yerba Mate and its Dark, Colonial History
Yerba Mate (pronounced “Yer-bah-mah-tay”) comes from the Ilex paraguariensis plant of the Aquifoliaceae (Holly) family. Native to South America, it stands at 6 to 8 metres tall, producing evergreen leaves, small fruit berries and greenish-white flowers.
Its leaves, in particular, are the component used in the making of Yerba Mate Tea, which is one of only sixty plants to naturally contain caffeine.
During the pre-Columbian era, the indigenous people knew this beverage as “The Drink of the Gods”. Evidence suggests that the Guarani of northern Argentina and the Tupi of southern Brazil were the first to apply Yerba Mate benefits to their daily lives.
This carried on for centuries - until change came in the form of sails on the horizon. The Spanish conquistadors had arrived.
These European colonists began to exploit the locals’ love for Yerba Mate. “The Drink of the Gods” quickly turned into “The Green Gold of the Indios”. Many tribes found themselves thrust into slavery, whereby they were forced to work on Yerba Mate plantations.
The Spaniards built roads for the herb’s transport and even started to export it overseas.
A Catholic congregation known as the Jesuits, most of whom intended to convert the indigenous population, believed Yerba Mate to be a gift from God. In 1767, however, the Spanish King Charles III expelled these missionaries from Spain and her South American colonies.
This had a dramatic impact on Yerba Mate production, which quickly declined soon after. The industry has since recovered.
Legacy of Yerba Mate
The Spanish colonisation of South America was, in some ways, made possible by Yerba Mate. It is, as such, a somewhat more controversial choice when it comes to the Ten Teas that influenced history.
Nevertheless, there is no denying the fact that it changed the continent forever. And the good news is that it has since broken free of its colonial past to become an immensely popular infusion around the world.
Yerba Mate combines the caffeine boost of Coffee, the health benefits of Tea and the endorphin buzz of chocolate. Several studies showcase its ability to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, balance blood sugar levels and even, bizarrely, improve sex drive.
Though a somewhat acquired taste with its flavour notes of smoked wood, tobacco and Green Tea, it unquestionably has much to offer.
Lapsang Souchong - the First Black Tea
Lapsang Souchong is a smoked Black Tea traditionally made in the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian Province, China. Its name is twofold: “Lapsang,” in Fuzhou dialect, means “smoked variety” - or words to that effect.
“Souchong,” on the other hand, refers to the fourth or fifth leaf of the Camellia sinensis (Tea) plant used in its making. Some also know it locally as “Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong.”
It was during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), a time of great upheaval in China, that Lapsang Tea, the first Black Tea, was created. The legendary story begins with a few Tea farmers living near the village of Tong Mu Guan.
One day, while they tended to their crop, a group of thieves descended upon their land. These bandits wanted the Tea, insisting that the farmers harvest it ready for their return.
But the farmers were not prepared to give up so easily. If they wanted to get their crop to market, though, they needed to be quick. Desperation took hold. The farmers, wanting to be away before the bandits came back, dried their leaves over pinewood fires to speed up oxidation.
The result was an unmistakably Smoke Tea - one that had seemingly undergone a strange change in its character and structure.
At first, it seemed as if the crop had been ruined. Yet the farmers persevered and reluctantly packed their shipment ready for market. It was at the port that, much to the farmers’ surprise, a group of Dutch traders expressed interest in sampling their Tea.
Everyone stood in silence, waiting for the verdict - which, as it turned out, was immensely positive. The Dutch indeed loved it, and so history was made.
Legacy of Lapsang Souchong
Some records suggest that British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), drank Lapsang Souchong for its similarities to his much-loved cigars.
All we know is that it gave rise to an entirely new type of Tea. Producers eventually worked out how to oxidise the leaves without the distinct smokiness of Lapsang. Now, we have the likes of China Black, Keemun, Kenya and Darjeeling Tea.
An astounding 78% of Tea drinkers choose this variety in all its many forms. Despite its youth compared to its 5,000-year-old Green Tea counterpart, Black Tea indeed rules supreme.
Additionally, scientists mostly agree that, apart from tasting great, it enhances cognitive function and improves oral health. There is also the chance, however small, of it acting as a cancer preventative.
Assam Tea Enables an Indian Tea Industry
Assam Tea is a type of Indian Black Tea best known for its malty notes and sweet undertones. It comes from the Camellia sinensis var. Assamica plant, which, as its name suggests, is native to the state of Assam.
This region finds itself surrounded by the northern Himalayas, the Brahmaputra plains, and the Deccan plateau. Its unique climatic conditions, meanwhile, ensure the utmost quality in Assam Tea.
Colonialism, similar to that of Yerba Mate, is the primary reason why we have this beverage. During the 18th century, Britain’s relationship with China had begun to deteriorate, and, as a result, shipments of Tea became increasingly scarce.
The Empire turned to British-ruled India as a potential alternative. However, attempts at growing Chinese Tea plants here failed time and time again.
It was a Scotsman named Robert Bruce, assisted by his brother and, not least, the local Singpho tribe, who, in 1823, essentially kickstarted the local Tea industry.
Upon his arrival in Assam, he witnessed the indigenous people chewing the leaves of an unknown plant. Its appearance, he concluded, bore an uncanny resemblance to Tea. Bruce collected specimens and took them to Calcutta.
Charles Alexander Bruce, Robert’s brother, then examined the leaves at the Botanical Gardens. It was at this point that the evidence became irrefutable: a variety of Tea grew naturally in India. By 1838, the first shipment of Assam Tea was auctioned in London.
One year later, in 1839, the Assam Company was officially founded, bringing about a new era of Indian Tea.
Legacy of Assam Tea
India is the second-largest Tea producer in the world, with around 1,325,000 tonnes made each year. China remains the greatest manufacturer, accounting for approximately 30-35% of total output globally.
However, following the discovery of Assam Tea some 200 years ago, there is strong competition. What’s more, and perhaps more importantly, India’s Tea industry sustains the lives of thousands.
And then there are its Black Tea benefits. This infusion, like almost all varieties, can support your health and wellbeing in a plethora of ways.
It’s worth noting its nutritional value, too, which includes the likes of Vitamin B-2, Vitamin B-5, Vitamin B-9, Iron, Potassium, Magnesium, Sodium, Manganese and Zinc. These remarkable chemical compounds are to name but a few - there are, indeed, many more.
Ceylon Tea - A Monument of Courage
Ceylon Tea is another example of a Black Tea Type, one originating from the island nation of Sri Lanka. This country, formerly the British colony of Ceylon, has made what many would describe as “hearty cuppas” since the 19th century.
When brewed, they offer bold, brisk and full-bodied flavours. However, the reason we have Ceylon Tea is, in fact, due to Coffee - or more to the point, its failure.
In 1869, the first signs of a plant-based disease called Coffee-rust appeared in British Ceylon. It wasn’t long before it spread across the entire island, essentially destroying the local Coffee industry.
Thankfully, a Scotsman named James Taylor had already started experimenting with Tea-growing at his estate. He promptly showed farmers how to cultivate it, thus saving the country from economic ruin.
Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote of this dramatic change: “A Rotten fungus drove a whole community through years of despair to one of the greatest commercial victories which pluck and ingenuity ever won.
The Tea-fields of Ceylon are as true a monument to courage as is the lion at Waterloo.” Today, Ceylon Tea is one of the most popular Black Tea types anywhere.
Legacy of Ceylon Tea
In 1948, Ceylon attained its independence and, decades after, in 1972, changed its name to “Sri Lanka.” The name of this Tea, however, remained the same due to its immense popularity around the world.
Now, Tea Estates cover an estimated 4% of Sri Lanka’s landmass, with around 5% of the local population working in the Ceylon Tea industry. It is believed to be the fourth-largest Tea producer globally.
And, of course, once again, it comes with health benefits. Evidence suggests that Black Tea, regardless of the variety, enhances cognitive function.
This is according to a study conducted at the University of Singapore and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In essence, it established that drinking 2-3 cups daily could lower your risk of cognitive decline by 55%
Rosehip Tea Served a Role in the Second World War
Rosehips are the fruit of the Rose (Rosa) plant belonging to the Rosaceae family. This shrub, as most will know all too well, is best known for its alluring and captivating flowers (we also use these to make Rose Petals Herbal Tea).
It likely first came from northern Persia (modern-day Iran), eventually becoming an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
More recently, however, it contributed to the Allied war effort during the Second World War (1939-1945). This was when rationing in Britain had come into effect, and the government was actively encouraging the art of foraging.
Most of the emphasis was on collecting wild vegetation, with one item singled out above all others: Rosehips. This was because of their exceptionally high levels in Vitamin C.
German naval blockades had led to a considerable shortage in citrus fruit across the British Isles. Brewing up Rosehip Tea or making it into a jam, as a result, became a recommended alternative.
The British people were thus able to get their daily dosage of crucial vitamins and minerals. It also boosted morale as the “keep calm and carry on” mentality prevailed.
Legacy of Rosehip Tea
The world is again facing a period in its existence where we need to be grateful for what we have around us. While shortages aren’t an issue as they were 80 years ago, the concept of keeping calm and carrying on has again become vital in society.
So, next time you see Rosehips growing in a hedgerow, remember that the smallest of actions can, at times, make a huge difference.
Interestingly, Rosehip Tea is one of the Best Teas for Immune System Health. Its wealth in Vitamin C, in particular, can help in the fight against common colds and the flu.
Though it isn’t going to do all of the work (and don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise), this support goes far. There is also the chance of Rosehip Tea Benefits combating acne and mild cases of rheumatoid arthritis
Rooibos Tea and Dr Annique Theron’s Amazing Discovery
The Rooibos plant (Aspalathus linearis) grows exclusively in the Cederberg region of South Africa. It is a member of the Fabaceae (Legume) family, reaching heights of up to 3 feet (0.9 metres) and boasting thin, needle-like leaves.
These leaves are the component used in the making of Rooibos Tea, which provides a gentle sweetness with notes of nuts, honey and caramel.
It was the Khoisan, one of South Africa’s indigenous peoples, who first realised the potential of Rooibos Tea benefits hundreds of years ago.
However, its ability to alleviate allergies and prevent infantile colic - its most famous medicinal qualities - came about through a woman called Annique Theron (1929-2016). This took place in 1968 when Annique was caring for her insomnia-suffering 14-month-old daughter.
After many sleepless nights, she decided to warm her breast milk with Rooibos in the hope it might help. It did. Lorinda, Annique’s child, slept for three hours straight.
A book was published on her findings entitled “Allergies: An Amazing Discovery,” showcasing this Tea’s extraordinary value. It would turn out to be but the beginning as, over the next few decades, and still today, more remarkable evidence followed.
Legacy of Rooibos Tea
Dr Theron, as she later became known, was able to see her legacy - and indeed the legacy of Rooibos Tea - unfold before passing away in 2016.
After her book, sales in this herb increased by over 50%. It later became one of the most extensively researched plants in the world. There are some who even believe that it will one day become the second-most consumed beverage after “real” Tea.
But the question begs: why did Annique’s daughter feel better after drinking it? Scientists believe it’s something to do with the bioflavonoid, quercetin.
Quercetin reportedly has antihistamine properties, which block the release of histamine from mast cells to curb common symptoms of seasonal allergies. According to one study, one of the Benefits of Rooibos Tea maybe beneficial as certain antihistamine medicines.
First there was Green Tea, an infusion allegedly discovered by an ancient Chinese Emperor that, in time, influenced society in countless ways.
Then there was Fennel and its fast-track aspirations, Nettle and its role in early British culture, and Vervain’s mystic value. What followed was Yerba Mate and the unfortunate path to colonisation. Lapsang Souchong, the first Black Tea, came next.
Assam and Ceylon Tea became a reality due, once again, to colonial thirst. Rosehips, years later, helped keep morale high enough to win a war.
Finally, the amazing discovery that was Rooibos changed the way we perceive herbal remedies. Each one of these Teas has served a purpose in human development. Indeed, without them, the world we now know might’ve been considerably different. And the rest is history.