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The History of Tea
According to legend tea has been known in China since about 2700 BC. For millennia it was a medicinal beverage obtained by boiling fresh leaves in water, but around the 3rd century AD it became a daily drink, and tea cultivation and processing began.

The first published account of methods of planting, processing, and drinking came in AD 350. Around 800 the first seeds were brought to Japan, where cultivation became established by the 13th century. Chinese from Amoy brought tea cultivation to the island of Formosa (Taiwan) in 1810. Tea cultivation in Java began under the Dutch, who brought seeds from Japan in 1826 and seeds, workers, and implements from China in 1833.

In 1824 tea plants were discovered in the hills along the frontier between Burma and the Indian state of Assam. The British introduced tea culture into India in 1836 and into Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1867. At first they used seeds from China, but later seeds from the Assam plant were used. The Dutch East India Company carried the first consignment of China tea to Europe in 1610.In 1669 the English East India Company brought China tea from ports in Java to the London market. Later, teas grown on British estates in India and Ceylon reached Mincing Lane, the centre of the tea trade in London.

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tea growing had spread to Russian Georgia, Sumatra, and Iran and extended to non-Asian countries such as Natal, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Congo, Tanzania, and Mozambique in Africa, to Argentina, Brazil, and Peru in South America, and to Queensland in Australia.

Tea Clippers

Until the mid 1800's, cargo ships including those carrying tea, usually took between twelve and fifteen months to make passage from ports in the East to those in London. East India Company ships, given exclusive control of the tea trade by Act of Parliament in 1832, raced to be the first ships to land tea in Britain.

The Americans were the first to design a new type of clipper. Recognising that the old ships had to carry too much weight, they designed a more streamlined vessel (based on the old Baltimore clippers) capable of carrying greater cargo (providing it was loaded correctly) at a greater speed. The new, faster clipper was born - so called because they were designed to "clip"; or get the last ounce of speed from the wind.

The first of these three masted, full-rigged vessels was the 750 ton Rainbow launched in New York in 1845. Every line promised speed - from the sharp, curving stem to the slim, tapering stern, with tall raking masts carrying a huge area of sail. The journey time of the slow East Indian clippers was halved. The first British built clipper, the Stornaway, was launched for the traders Jardine Matheson in 1850 in Aberdeen. Many others followed: the "Lightning", an American built ship, covered 4.36 sea miles in 24 hours an average of eighteen miles per knot (this according to users), a record at this time and nearly as fast as a modern ocean liner.

Perhaps the most famous clipper ever built was the British clipper Cutty Sark. The Cutty Sark was built in 1868 and only carried tea on just eight occasions. By the middle of the 19th Century, the races between the tea clippers had become a great annual competition. The race began in China where the clippers would leave the Canton River, race down the China Sea, across the Indian Ocean, around the Cape of Good Hope, up the Atlantic, past the Azores and into the English Channel. The clippers would then be towed up the River Thames by tugs and the race would be won by the first ship to hurl ashore its cargo at the docks. The first cargo home fetched as much as an extra sixpence (2.5p) per 1lb (450g) - and gained a cash bonus for Captain and crew.

Varieties of Tea

Ceylon
Extremes of climate in the South West Highlands of Sri Lanka help produce wonderful teas with amazingly different styles and tastes. Ceylon teas are clean, fresh tasting, bright and strong. The best large leaf Orange Pekoe is smooth with an almost oaky flavour.

Assam and Kenya
Assam is a superb full bodied ,strong tea, with a hint of dry malty flavour, from the locally discovered "Assam Jat". Our teas are all orthodox leaf, not small leaf CTC. The larger leafed Golden Tippy teas are rich, creamy and hearty. Kenya are the best African Teas. Neat leaf and strong - a golden red liquor.

Darjeeling and Himalayan Regions
The 'champagne of teas', from the world's most exotic location; scarce, though improving in quality all the time. Exceptionally delicate and fragrant, with an aroma close to muscatel grapes. Brew very pale using just a few leaves. Only the FOP will have enough colour to take milk.