A meditator, a tradition, a national treasure, a legacy: a cup of tea goes far beyond simple enjoyment.
We find comfort in drinking a cuppa, but it’s easy to miss the history, art and complexity that underlies such a simple pleasure. Storytelling and gaining a deeper understanding of how tea has travelled through the centuries, across the globe and making its way into our lives and traditions, can add layers of meaning to our pleasure – it becomes not just a drink but an experience.
We have the Chinese to thank for the idea of drinking the soothing beverage. Legend has it that Emperor Shen Nong discovered the energising and refreshing effects of tea in 2737BC, when some leaves fell into his cup of hot water. In the beginning, it was regarded as a therapeutic infusion brimming with antioxidants; although initially available to royalty and the rich, it quickly became a daily custom for those living prosperous lives. From the 10th Century onwards, China started to first export its tea to neighbouring countries, but it made its way to Britain much later.
Already becoming commonplace in Europe, Thomas Garraway was one of the first merchants to start serving tea at his London coffee house in 1657, but it became more established when Catherine of Braganza - the wife of King Charles II - brought over flavoured leaves from Portugal. This instantly started a 'tea trend' among the 17th Century British aristocracy.
When the birthplace of tea could no longer keep up with the growing demand, Britain's East India Tea Company took advantage of the situation and began the first real commercial production of the beverage in India. The first English tea garden was established in Assam in 1837, with numerous tea plantations soon rolled out across the country - rapidly expanding the industry and facilitating the colonisation of much of this part of the world. Today, India produces and consumes more tea than any other nation in the world.
Here we take you on a journey to discover five destinations that have played a significant part in this history and their intriguing tea rituals, ceremonies and experiences...
Originally a hub for coffee production before the crops were decimated by a fungal disease in the 1870's, Ceylon quickly adapted to produce tea. The first leaf landed on Sri Lanka's shores in 1824 and 23 years later, British planter James Taylor created the country's first tea plantation. From an initial 19 acres in size, the plantation grew steadily until the industry began to soar, paving the way for the rise of the Ceylon blend.
In Singapore, afternoon tea has been elevated to an elaborate affair becoming a high point of self-indulgence and affordable luxury. The quality, quantity and variety of the food on offer accompanied by unparalleled scenery in which you can enjoy it are in a league of their own. The great hotels of Singapore employ the best pastry chefs, access the most exquisite ingredients, and fight it out to produce the most elaborate and luxurious teatime in town.
In Barbados, colonial traditions are still firmly interwoven into Bajan society. Reflecting the island's imperial background, Cobblers Cove serve a complimentary daily afternoon tea for guests in the Pavilion at the Great House. An elegant and idyllic experience with azure waters as your backdrop, while sipping on a selection of caffeinated and herbal teas.
Journey across the Atlantic to Africa, now the fourth largest producer in the world even though tea is a relatively new crop on the continent. Almost every country in Africa now grows at least a small amount of tea, with the most common crop for use in teabags. Tea is enjoyed by locals and visitors as a refreshment, it is also often served with meals and offered as a show of hospitality to welcome guests. South Africa’s regional speciality is Rooibos tea, a herbal brew prized for its health-giving properties.
North of the African continent, unearth the origins of naa-naa – the renowned Moroccan mint tea. During the 18th Century, a British merchant found himself in Morocco with an abundance of Chinese gunpowder green tea. Moroccans were enraptured by the sensational flavours emerging from the leaves, especially when mixed with mint. Sweetened naa-naa rapidly became Morocco's national drink and was quickly established as a sign of friendship and hospitality.