Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by N. N Wonders, “Is it part of their tradition or culture to drink a lot of tea in Britain?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, N!

Have you ever been to a tea party? They’re not just for kids! People across the world enjoy afternoon tea. It’s a great way to rest and get ready for the end of the day. People have been drinking tea for thousands of years. Have you ever WONDERed how it started?

The story of tea is mixed with legend. In 2737 BCE, Chinese Emperor Shen Nong was boiling water in his garden. A falling leaf from a nearby tree landed in the pot. When he drank the water, the emperor liked the flavor infused from the leaf. After further study, the emperor found that the drink had many positive effects. He made it a regular part of his diet.

Was tea really made by accident? We can’t be sure. However, experts do believe that the tea plant started in regions of China, Tibet, and India. Traders traveled from these places carrying tea leaves elsewhere.

Widespread tea-drinking started around 618 CE. Soon, tea became China’s national drink. During the “romantic age” of tea (960-1280), references to tea appeared in poetry and art. Chinese culture influenced nearby regions, and before long, tea was popular across East Asia.

Much later, traders brought tea to Europe. Explorer Marco Polo was one of the early Europeans to write about the drink. However, tea wasn’t commonly traded in Europe until the 17th Century. The Dutch East India Company sold tea leaves in Europe for the first time in 1610, and Russian merchants brought tea along the Silk Road around the same time.

In 1657, Thomas Garraway opened the first tea shop in England. Soon, the drink spread to other English cafes. Catherine of Braganza, who married King Charles II, drank tea, further popularizing it among the British people. However, it was too expensive for most people to buy. In its early years, tea was most often consumed by royalty and wealthy families.

Tea quickly became a tool of political power for England. As the nation’s empire spread, it sold tea through the British East India Company. It put heavy taxes on the drink in both India and the United States. This would even lead to protests, including the Boston Tea Party.

Tea has long played a role in social life. Across England, the afternoon tea party has become a tradition. People gather with their friends and family to talk and enjoy refreshments. Tea time has even made it into books and movies, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Mulan.

As tea became more affordable and common, people gave the drink their own spin. Many found they like some types of tea more than others. Different people prefer white, yellow, black, or green teas. Others make the choice to drink decaffeinated tea. In America, iced tea and sweet tea became popular. While hot tea remains popular in most parts of the world, iced tea makes up 80% of tea sales in the United States today.

Next to water, tea is the world’s most popular drink today. It’s even more common than coffee! Over time, we’ve made tea drinking more convenient. People today don’t even need to worry about brewing it on their own! We can find bottled tea in just about any store.  

Do you like to sip tea? Do you prefer hot or cold? Sweet or unsweet? Black, green, or herbal? There are so many possibilities. The next time you’re feeling social, consider gathering your friends for a tea party. You never know what fun you might have!

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