For most people across the world, drinking tea has been an essential component of their life. From China to India, the United Kingdom to Africa, each region across the world have had their romance with this beverage, and it would be impossible to find anyone who does not know anything about tea. However, most people do not know the deep culture and history associated with this beloved beverage.
21st May is observed annually as the International Tea Day by the United Nations. The day is significant as it is around this time of the year most chai-producing countries begin the production of tea. But more than that, the day aims to raise awareness of the long history, economic and cultural impact of tea across the globe. Also, the day serves to foster collective action to promote sustainable production, fair trade, and impact on millions of growers and workers associated with the tea trade.
What is interesting about chai is that apart from being a tasty beverage, its medical benefits are multi-fold. Loaded with antioxidants, it offers drinkers a boost of energy along with maintaining metabolism and vital bodily functions. Moreover, for those looking to manage their weight, chai features as one of the best options. Compared to coffee, it has less caffeine and also helps reduce the risks associated with heart attack and stroke.
Originating from China, tea had been coveted by many kingdoms and empires. For centuries, the Chinese carefully kept tea out of sight from the world, keeping its production and processing techniques secret. From there it spread to other East Asian countries like Japan and Korea, where it became a defining part of their culture.
During the late medieval and early modern era, it was a primary export item from China and even overtook Silk. By the mid 19th century, it became so popular in the United Kingdom, that the government began raising concerns over the outflow of outrageous amounts of silver to China for buying of chai. As a result, British East India Company (EIC) began buying tea from China in exchange for opium grown in British India, which in turn caused havoc in China in the form of opium – abuse. This caused the Chinese Qing Empire to declare war with EIC, leading to the famous Opium wars, which led to the loss of Hong Kong to Britain.
Later, its cultivation was introduced in India in the 1830s by Archibald Campbell in an attempt to break Chinese monopoly on production of the plant. Carefully planted and cultivated on the gentle slopes of eastern Indian Himalayas, this tea became renowned throughout the world as ‘Darjeeling’ tea.
Today, it is grown throughout the world and the largest producers of tea are China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. It is the most widely consumed beverage globally and is known throughout the world in some or the other variations of the words ‘tea’ or ‘chaa’. In India, Masala tea comes in many varieties and combinations. The British like to have it without any additions. Central Asia and Persia enjoy ‘Sabz’ or Green teas and the Japanese have elaborate tea ceremonies which have developed over centuries. It is no wonder that with such rich history and culture associated with this plant, it remains integral to the lives of hundreds of millions across the world.
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