History Brewed In A Cup

Amidst the long march of history, perceptions were changed, a dynasty fell and a revolution began—mostly because of the leaves of plant plucked from the mountains of the East. Humble in form but compelling in essence, tea has served as a witness to the history of men. From the mountains of China to the coasts of America, it was a potent flavor in the steeping of the modern civilization.

As a cultural symbol in the Middle Kingdom, tea was highly prized with Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, describing it as “the froth of the liquid jade”—an indispensable ingredient to the elixir of life.

With its flavors wafting into Europe through the Arabs, the British Empire tried to acquire more of the commodity, among others, by trading with the Chinese. The latter, however, refused. In an attempt to facilitate the trading of goods, the British decided to sell a commodity that the Middle Kingdom would want—opium. Smuggled into the shores of China, opium has found its way into the blood stream of society drawing concern from its then emperor, Dao Guang of the Qing Dynasty.

The emperor, in an attempt to purge the drug dubbed as a financial and physical affliction called for the cutting of the opium supply. This however forged the Opium Wars—a battle between the Middle Kingdom and the British Empire, which the latter ultimately won.

China was forced to grant the foreigners concessions which included some parts of its territory and aspects of its sovereignty. Meanwhile, the years that followed the country’s defeat flamed revolutionary ardor within the people China causing the Qing Dynasty to fall. Tea, on the other hand, survived and continued to spread through the world especially in the British Empire.

This was not the first war which involved tea and the said empire. Long before the Opium Wars, Britain had a long withstanding struggle with the Americans colonists—with the Boston Tea Party firing the opening shot American independence.

The British sought to impose new taxes on tea. The Americans, however, opposed this while bringing to light its other grievances to the British crown. So, on December 16, 1713, Samuel Adams and a group of men disguised as Mohawks boarded the ships carrying the tea and dumped 342 chests of the commodity into the harbor leading the British to impose more punitive measures against the Americans. This event was ultimately led to the American Revolution where the Americans won their independence.

Even, after the said revolution, the British Empire continued to spread tea around the world setting up plantations in Sri Lanka and India. Tea also continued to spread to other countries such as Russia and Turkey. The spread of tea leaves gave rise to various tea cultures.

Centuries after the Opium Wars and the American Revolution, tea continues to be more than a beverage. It became the symbol of refinement and elegance. To the Americans, it became freedom leading the country’s Republicans to use it in christening the well-known Tea Party.

A potent force despite its humble appearance, tea has survived the changes in perception, the fall of a dynasty and a revolution. But even until now, it remains humble—brewing from one story to another.

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