Tea is China’s gift to the rest of the world. From Mongolia to Holland to England, the story of tea emerged from 19th century China.
During border wars between the steppe-based horse-riding Mongolians and the Manchurian Qing dynasty of China, a gift of tea was given to the Russian King. He didnt like it much, but the Chinese didn’t give up. Twelve years after the Dutch East India first beganning trading in the beverage, the king’s son, who was now Tsar Alexis, was presented with tea by ambassadors from China.
He liked it. Tea quickly spread in Russia and camel caravans started trading tea for Siberian furs. Meanwhile, back in Holland, tea became the favoured beverage of the leisured classes, and sold for over $100 a pound. Middle class homes established their own tearooms and it was the Dutch who first experimented with adding milk to their cuppa.
The Dutch also opened inns for tea, and would provide guests with their own heating apparatus and a portable tea set, and usher them into the garden to brew their own tea.
Meanwhile, over in Britain, King Charles married Portuguese Princess Catarina de Bragança, who brought tea to her new home. It soon became fashionable amongst the nobility to drink tea, and eventually spread to the common people via apothecary’s where it was sold.
The British quickly developed a trade for tea, and the quantities needed to satisfy consumers increased greatly. Problem was, Britain did not have anything that China coveted, and Britain did not have enough silver to pay in cash for their trade.
To counter the trade deficit, Britain came up with an innovative solution. Traders turned to drug trafficing, importing narcotic opiates from their Indian plantations. When the Qing government tried to outlaw this trade, the British brought in the big guns. Literally. British warships were sent to invade southern China and trading ports along the East Coast.
Squirmishes continued until China was forced to sign the very unequal and quite misnamed “Peace Treaty” succeeding territory. Hong Kong and other port cities were taken by miliatry might from China, and it add insult to injury, China was forced to “repatriate” , giving money to Britain to cover its military expenses.
All over a cup of tea.