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The Qinling Mountain Tea Series - Part 2: China Tea and World

The Qinling Mountain Tea Series - Part 1: What is Tea?
The Qinling Mountain Tea Series - Part 2: China Tea and World
The Qinling Mountain Tea Series - Part 3: Tea Cultivation History in China
The Qinling Mountain Tea Series - Part 4: Six Chinese Tea Types
The Qinling Mountain Tea Series - Part 5: About Mountain Tea
The Qinling Mountain Tea Series - Part 6: What is Qinling Mt.
The Qinling Mountain Tea Series - Part 7: Teas From Qinling Mt.
The Qinling Mountain Tea Series - Part 8: Qinling Green Tea
The Qinling Mountain Tea Series - Part 9: Qinling Black Tea
The Qinling Mountain Tea Series - Part 10: Qinling Fu Tea


The Qinling Mountain Tea Series - Part 2: The History of Chinese Tea and Tea Consumption Worldwide.

The initiation of the Maritime Silk Road appears to have begun in the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 9 AD, 25–220 AD), developed during the Tang Dynasty(618–907 AD), and reached its zenith in the Ming(1368 – 1644 AD) and Qing Dynasties(1644 – 1912AD). The Silk Road's prosperity is intricately linked to the opening and extension of domestic and foreign sea routes and the enduring significance of silk as a significant Chinese export.

Silk Road Map

From the mid-16th century to the mid-17th century, there was a transformation in the pattern of Sino-foreign commerce. The progress of European maritime exploration and coastal colonial expansion was completed, incorporating the coastal regions of Africa, the Americas, and the Far East into a global trade network dominated by Europeans. The European pursuit of commerce in the Far East and international colonial activities significantly propelled East-West trade. Only after this global trade network was formed did Chinese products, especially silk, become globally significant commodities. Until the late 17th century, silk remained a primary Chinese export. However, by the early 18th century, it began to emerge as a crucial commodity exported from China to the West, gaining increasing importance. By the mid-19th century, silk exports accounted for 90% of Chinese exports to the West. On the traditional Silk Road, the continuous flow was dominated by Western trading vessels transporting Chinese tea, turning the Silk Road into the Tea Road.

Camel Trains on the Silk Road

It is a pity that Western people only learned about tea in the 16th century, although tea had been cultivated in China as early as the 2nd century BC. As Sir Geoffrey, a British tea historian, said, "It is strange that tea, which has been known for 1,500 years, is still not well known in Europe, despite the close contact between China and the West." It took nearly 200 years for tea to be widely consumed in Europe when it was first introduced to the West.

The earliest Western book to mention tea was published in 1559 by Venetian merchant Giambattista Ramusio. In his Italian travelogue "Navigation et Viaggi," he said he met a Persian merchant named Hazi Mohammed in Central Asia. He introduced him to a plant called "Chai" grown in China.

Since then, many Western explorers, sailors, merchants, and Jesuits have brought information about tea to the West. Although their descriptions were sometimes contradictory and speculative, they helped to increase Western understanding of Chinese tea.

Although the Portuguese were pioneers in opening up trade with China, the Dutch first brought tea to Europe as a commodity. Dutch sailors Dirck G Pomp and J.H. van Linschoten, who had worked for Portuguese ships for many years in the Far East, mentioned tea and tea water in their nautical atlases "Spieghel de Zeevaart" and "Itinerario: Voyage often Schipuaet Jan Huyen Van Linschoten near Oost often Portugaels Indien 1579-1592" after returning to the Netherlands.

The Dutch East India Company was founded in 1594 and completed its first voyage to the Far East the following year. The company's first shipment of tea from Indonesia to Europe arrived in 1606.

Nine years later, the British also began to purchase tea from Europe. In June 1615, Robert Wickham, a merchant at the British East India Company's factory in Hirado, Japan, wrote to his colleague at the company's factory in Macau, asking him to purchase tea in Macau and not to buy a can of the best tea at a high price.

For decades after introducing tea to Europe, it was mainly used as a medicinal herb. The Dutch led the way in drinking tea as a regular beverage and exporting tea as a commodity rather than a medicinal herb.

On January 2, 1637, the Dutch East India Company board of directors instructed the company's governor-general in Batavia: "Since tea has begun to be consumed by some people, we hope that all ships of the company will carry some tea from China and Japan."

The large-scale export of Chinese tea to Europe may have begun in 1666 from Fujian. In a letter to the board of directors on January 25, 1667, the Dutch governor-general of India mentioned: "Last year, we (Dutch) were forced to accept a large amount of tea in Fujian. The quantity was too large for us to handle in the company, so we decided to ship most of it to our homeland (the Netherlands)."

The large amount of tea initially shipped to Europe attracted the attention of the company's directors. On April 6, 1685, the company's board of directors wrote to the company's governor-general: "Given the large quantity of tea that private individuals are carrying through various channels, we have decided that from now on, the company should take tea seriously as a commodity. We want to order 20,000 pounds of fresh, high-quality tea, packed according to market demand, not stale."

After the mid-17th century, the habit of drinking tea spread to France, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries. Portugal was also an essential tea-drinking country, and the habit of drinking tea had penetrated the aristocratic circles and even the officialdom. Princess Catherine, who was fond of drinking tea, brought this beneficial habit to the British royal family when she married King Charles II of England.

Since the Dutch had a significant scale of tea consumption and trade in the first half of the 17th century, tea soon became popular in the Netherlands' traditional rival, Britain. The early tea that was shipped to Britain was mainly carried by the crew of the British East India Company, which allowed them to bring back private goods for sale. The London Tea Exchange was officially opened in 1657.

Tea was costly in Europe in the mid-17th century. In 1664, the British East India Company paid 4 pounds 5 shillings for 2 pounds 2 ounces of tea to be presented to Queen Catherine. Two years later, the company produced 56 pounds of 17 shillings for 22 pounds of 12 ounces of tea for the British royal family.

Russia was also one of the earliest European nations to acquire Chinese tea. In 1616, Russian envoy Tyumenets visited the Central Asian Khanate of Adan. The following year, Chinese tea was among the gifts he brought back for the Tsar. In 1658, envoy Perfiliev led a delegation to China, and the gifts the Chinese Emperor presented to the Russian Tsar included three pounds of tea. In 1686, the Nerchinsk Treaty was signed between China and Russia, granting "free trade for merchants of both nations holding government-issued travel permits." Controlled by Peter the Great's court, Russian merchant caravans began their three-year journeys to and from China, initially trading in Beijing. From 1693 to 1730, 13 Russian merchant caravans engaged in trade in Beijing, accompanied by approximately 50 so-called "envoys," of which only three were genuinely dispatched by the Russian court. Primarily motivated by commerce, these "envoys" laid the groundwork for establishing the Siberian institution in 1697, centrally managing trade with China.

1728, the Chuguchak Treaty was signed, designating Chuguchak on the Sino-Russian border as the trade location. A new trading city was established on the southern side of Chuguchak, about 150 yards away, and referred to as "China Village" by the Russians and "Buying and Selling City" by Chinese merchants. Chuguchak remained a central hub for Sino-Russian trade for over 130 years until the 1850s.

Despite the growing number of tea consumers among Siberians and some Europeans at the end of the 17th century, tea prices remained high, and the quantity of tea imported to Russia remained limited. Tea ranked second to textiles among Chinese goods exported to Russia, with 7,000 poods (1 pood = 16.38 kg) of brick tea and 6,000 poods of white down tea shipped to Chuguchak in 1750. Until the early 18th century, the quantity of tea imported into Western Europe remained restricted.

The East India Company of England purchased 143 pounds of tea in 1669 and 793 pounds in 1670, both from Bantam. In 1682, the company instructed four ships bound for Xiamen to acquire 1,000 pounds of high-quality tea. In 1687, the "London" and "Worcester" sailed from Bombay to Xiamen, purchasing 150 pounds of special-grade tea, half in cans and half in other containers. When the "Princess" returned to London in 1690 after trading in Xiamen, the board of directors complained, "In recent years, trade has been poor, and tea, except for the highest quality packed in jars, barrels, or boxes, is equally difficult to sell." This indicates that tea consumption in England then could have been more substantial.

In 1697, the ships "Nassau" and "Treinbol" arrived in Xiamen, each purchasing 600 and 500 barrels of tea, respectively. The following year, the boat "Fleet" bought 300 barrels of tea in Xiamen. In 1699, the ship "Mayfield" purchased 160 dan of high-quality green tea in Guangzhou. At the end of the 17th century, the average annual tea import to England was about 20,000 pounds, only a thousandth of what it would become a century later. From 1690 to 1718, the 14 Chinese sailboats arriving in Batavia each year could only supply enough tea to fill one Dutch tea ship. Until 1715, the Dutch East India Company only ordered 60,000 to 70,000 pounds of tea from the Batavia government, and tea was not yet a primary Chinese product for European purchase. The reasons were twofold: tea was too expensive, surpassing the average citizen's purchasing power, and tea drinking had yet to become a common habit among the general population. In 1666, tea in London was priced at £2 18 per pound, while tea in Batavia was only £2 6 per pound. In 1684, a pound of good tea in Amsterdam fetched 80 guilders (about 24 taels of silver). Prices remained high at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1705, retail prices for tea in Edinburgh were 16 per pound for green tea and 30 per pound for black tea. In 1719, London prices per pound for green tea ranged from 10 to 19, and for Wuyi tea, from 13 to 19, while the average British worker earned only 3 to 4 pence per day.

The exorbitant price of tea was the main impediment to its widespread consumption. Additionally, in the late 17th century, Europeans primarily consumed cocoa, and coffee entered and became popular in Europe slightly earlier than tea.  Between 1720 and 1730, when tea prices sharply declined, tea gradually replaced coffee and became the most common beverage in England. The tea-drinking habit quickly spread across Western Europe in the 1720s, primarily due to the rapidly decreasing prices resulting from intense competition. Though the cost of 5s per pound for tea remained relatively high for lower-income individuals, its intense flavor and ability to be steeped multiple times quickly made it the economical and uniquely flavored choice for these consumers. The expansion of consumption led to increased competition among more merchants and companies entering the tea trade, further lowering tea prices and attracting more consumers, thus marking the beginning of the large-scale importation of Chinese tea into Europe.

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