Tea is being prepared by humans for over 2000 years! No wonder many different tea cultures developed around it. Almost every country in the world has their own preferences, preparations, customs, traditions and can tell their own story about cultivation and trade. The oldest of tea cultures is the Chinese one, the one of most relevance to us is the European one.
This has been interestingly summarized:
Chinese tea culture
Chinese tea culture refers to the methods of preparation of tea, the equipment used to make tea and the occasions in which tea is consumed in China. The terms chayi, 茶藝 ("Art of Tea") and "Tea Ceremony" have been used, but the term 茶文化 ("Tea Culture") includes more than just the ceremony. Also "culture" is easier to translate into English than the Chinese term 藝 ("art").
Tea culture in China differs from that of Europe, Britain or Japan in such things as preparation methods, tasting methods and the occasions for which it is consumed. Even now, in both casual and formal Chinese occasions, tea is consumed regularly. In addition to being a drink, Chinese tea is used in traditional Chinese medicine and in Chinese cuisine.
According to legend, tea was first discovered by the legendary Chinese emperor and herbalist, Shennong, in 2737 BCE. It is said that the emperor liked his drinking water boiled before he drank it so it would be clean, so that is what his servants did. One day, on a trip to a distant region, he and his army stopped to rest. A servant began boiling water for him to drink, and a dead leaf from the wild tea bush fell into the water. It turned a brownish color, but it was unnoticed and presented to the emperor anyway. The emperor drank it and found it very refreshing, and cha (tea) came into being.
The mark, a Chinese dictionary dated to the 3rd century BCE, records that an infusion of some kind of leaf was used as early as the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE).
While historically the origin of tea as a medicinal herb useful for staying awake is unclear, China is considered to have the earliest records of tea drinking, with recorded tea use in its history dating back to the first millennium BCE. The Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) used tea as medicine. The use of tea as a beverage drunk for pleasure on social occasions dates from the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE) or earlier.
The Tang Dynasty writer Lu Yu's 陸羽 (729-804) Cha Jing 茶經 is an early work on the subject. (See also Tea Classics) According to Cha Jing writing, around CE 760, tea drinking was widespread. The book describes how tea plants were grown, the leaves processed, and tea prepared as a beverage. It also describes how tea was evaluated. The book also discusses where the best tea leaves were produced.
At this time in tea's history, the nature of the beverage and style of tea preparation were quite different from the way we experience tea today. Tea leaves were processed into compressed cakes form. The dried teacake, generally called brick tea was ground in a stone mortar. Hot water was added to the powdered teacake, or the powdered teacake was boiled in earthenware kettles then consumed as a hot beverage.
A form of compressed tea referred to as white tea was being produced as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). This special white tea of Tang was picked in early spring, when the tea bushes had abundant growths which resembled silver needles. These "first flushes" were used as the raw material to make the compressed tea. Tea is an important item in Chinese culture and is mentioned in the Seven necessities of (Chinese) daily life. Tea was also used as a relaxing therapy for the Chinese.
In 1753, Linnaeus described the plant as a single species, Thea sinensis. Later, however, he recognized two species, Thea Bohea and Thea viridis, as cultivated in China, and it was long thought that these were the origin of black and green tea respectively.
Chin-Nung, a celebrated scholar and philosopher, who existed long before Confucius, is claimed to have said of it: "Tea is better than wine, for it leadeth not to intoxication, neither does it cause a man to say foolish things and repent thereof in his sober moments.
The american Teaculture
American restaurants and workplaces typically offer machine-made drip brew coffee by default, while hot tea brewed by the cup with tea bags, an American invention, is available by request. Tea has played an important role in the United States, as families tend to gather around the kitchen and tea is often served here. Although many may equate tea to grandmothers, tea drinking is popular with all ages. Tea parties can be celebrated for many occasions, from the very small and intimate to the large family gatherings and celebrations. Tea can be served at dawn, early morning, midday, or whenever tea is desired. In the U.S. south, pre-brewed, chilled, and sweetened tea, a regional favorite called sweet tea, may be served at all meals and throughout the day as an alternate to other beverages. In the United States, about 85% of the tea consumed is served cold, or iced. Iced tea is more frequently consumed during periods of hot weather or in lower latitudes, and hot tea is likewise more common in colder weather. Any confusion when one is visiting different parts of the country can easily be solved by explicitly asking for either "hot tea" or "iced tea." Afternoon tea, as a meal, is rarely served in the U.S. except in ritualized special occasions such as the tea party or an afternoon out at a high-end hotel or restaurant, which may also offer cream tea on their menu.
The American Tea culture is a part of the history of the United States, as this beverage appeals to all classes and has adapted to the customs of the United States of America. In the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now known as New York, tea was served with the best silver strainers, the finest porcelain cups and pots, and wooden tea caddies. Tea became a very popular drink in the colonies, and tea ceremonies were common among all classes. In Salem, MA, tea leaves were boiled to create a bitter brew, then served as a vegetable side dish with butter. By the time of the American Revolution, tea was drunk everywhere from the backwoods to the cities.
However, tea and tea taxes became a bone of contention between the American Colonies and Great Britain. This led to the 1773 Boston Tea Party, a precipitating event of the Revolution, when angry Colonists destroyed the tea cargo of three British ships by dumping them into Boston Harbor. As a consequence, tea drinking became unpatriotic. Boycotts of tea led to an increase in consumption of other beverages, such as coffee or herbal teas infused with peppermint, sage or dandelions.
To this day, coffee remains more popular than tea in the United States; however the U.S. still consumed 7.8 gallons of tea per capita annually. While coffee is by far more popular, hot brewed black tea is enjoyed both with meals and as a refreshment by much of the population. Similarly, iced tea is consumed throughout. In the Southeastern states sweet tea, sweetened with large amounts of sugar or an artificial sweetener and chilled, is the fashion. Outside the Southeast, sweet tea is sometimes found, but primarily because of cultural migration and commercialization.
The American specialty tea market has quadrupled in the years from 1993–2008, now being worth $6.8 billion a year. Similar to the trend of better coffee and better wines, this tremendous increase was partly due to consumers who choose to trade up. Specialty tea houses and retailers also started to pop up during this period.