‘Magical elixir’ tea is world's best drink

In-tea-national fame: Paraguay drinks the most tea; the average citizen has 12.22kg per year.

Can anything beat a good cuppa? Tea is the second-most drunk beverage after water. Now historians have found a 17th-century shopping list containing Britain’s first reference to the drink.

On September 25th 1660, as Britain ended a six-year war with Spain and contemplated a new one with the Dutch, the diarist Samuel Pepys was discussing foreign affairs with a friend. “I did send for a cup of tee, (a China drink) of which I had never drunk before,” he wrote later. (He did not say what he thought of it.)

This was one of the first ever mentions of tea in England, a country which went on to be one of its biggest champions. Or so historians thought — until a note was found in Yorkshire this month, ordering a bottle of tea from an apothecary. It is dated December 8th 1644, more than a decade before tea was thought to have arrived in Britain.

“It’s really intriguing,” said Rachel Conroy, the museum curator who found it.

Of course, tea’s full history stretches back much further — so much further that it becomes legend. Almost 5,000 years ago, in 2737BC, the legendary Chinese Emperor Shennong discovered tea by accident when a tea leaf drifted from his garden into a pot of boiling water. Slowly, the drink made its way to neighbouring countries like Japan and Korea.

Now, tea is drunk across the globe, second only to water in its popularity. Many cultures have developed their own rituals, traditions and unique ways of preparing tea to drink. Forget the milk or lemon debate; in Tibet, salt and yak butter are added to the brew, while in Pakistan Kashmiri tea is a blush pink colour.

Tea has long been thought to have health benefits. (One 17th-century Dutch doctor claimed to drink between 50 to 100 cups a day.)

Although it is not a miracle cure, modern scientists also suggest that tea is good for you. Just last week, a study claimed that a cup of tea instantly boosts creativity. In 2015 an Australian study found that tea drinkers tend to live longer than non-tea drinkers. It is also as hydrating as water; its antioxidants protect against cancers; and it may even help the body recover from radiation.

Surely we must all agree that it is the best drink ever?

Brew-tea-ful

Of course, say tea fans. A colourful history; numerous health benefits; and unlike coffee, an amino acid called theanine which means it releases its caffeine slowly throughout the day, countering any increases in anxiety. As the Japanese author Okakura Kakuzō put it, “Tea ... is a religion of the art of life.” Now put the kettle on.

Not so fast, warn others. Forget boring tea, or bitter coffee. They pale in comparison to one of capitalism’s sweetest success stories: Coca Cola. The soda was invented in 1886, and is now consumed across the globe. It may not be very healthy, but it has successfully marketed itself as a symbol of freedom, inclusivity, and progress. And it tastes great.

You Decide

  1. What is the best way to drink tea?
  2. Is tea the best drink in the world? If not, what can beat it?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you have been put in charge of a global campaign to promote drinking tea. Design a slogan and advertisement that extols one or some of the virtues mentioned in this article.
  2. Choose a country other than your own, and research its relationship with tea. Create a short presentation which explores the history and traditions of that country.

Some People Say...

“There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.”

Lin Yutang

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
There are four main types of tea, all derived from the Camellia sinensis plant. Green tea, black tea, white tea and oolong tea are all harvested from the leaves. Anything else (such as herbal teas) is technically an infusion. The plant was originally grown only in China, meaning the country had a monopoly on the tea trade. However, in the 1700s the trees were grown in India, allowing the British Empire to profit from the drink too.
What do we not know?
Exactly when tea arrived in Britain. The earliest mention of the drink being sold is at Thomas Garraway’s London coffeehouse in 1657. However, this newly discovered note from Yorkshire suggests that it was being sold before then (perhaps for medical purposes).

Word Watch

Apothecary
A historic medical professional.
Shennong
A mythical ruler of China, said to have lived around 4,500 years ago. As well as discovering tea, he is also credited with various agricultural inventions, such as the axe, plough and the digging of wells.
Study
The study, by Peking University's School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, conducted two tests on 50 students. At the beginning of the experiment, half were given a cup of tea, and half a glass of water. The groups were then given creative challenges, like coming up with a “cool” name for a noodle restaurant. The tea drinkers received more points for their efforts than those who were given water.
Live longer
According to a 2015 study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women who drank two cups of tea a day tended to live longer.
Antioxidants
Substances, also found in fruits and vegetables, which are thought to delay cell damage.
Recover
A 2006 study found that tea helped to speed up the healing of skin damage for radiotherapy patients.