The Amazing History of Tea

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All over the world, people share a love of tea. Bruce Gulland and Liz Waid look at the history and customs of this popular drink.

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Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

Voice 2  

And I am Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand no matter where in the world they live.

Click here to follow along with this program on YouTube.

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Some people drink it with food in the afternoon.

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Some people drink it to give themselves energy in the morning.

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Some people drink it as part of a ceremony.

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Some people drink it when they are sick.

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Some people drink it hot.

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Some people drink it very cold.

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People have been drinking it for hundreds of years, in hundreds of countries. What is it? Tea!

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Tea comes from the camellia sinensis plant. People pick the leaves off the plant. They set the leaves to dry. The tea leaves are ready when all the water from the leaves is evaporated. There are many ways to prepare the leaves before making the tea drink. Some tea leaves are left open to the air before they are dried. This makes the leaves darker. They will taste stronger. Some people mix tea leaves with flowers, oils, and other plants to give teas different tastes. The people who originally discovered tea developed these methods many years ago.

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The story of tea begins in China. Chinese history says that over 5,000 years ago, Chinese emperor Shen Nung discovered tea. Stories say that a dry leaf from the tea plant fell into the emperor’s cup of hot water. The emperor saw that his water turned dark. He tasted the water and liked it. This was the first cup of tea.

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However it started, tea became very popular in China. People believed that tea was healthy. People in China also created many different ways to prepare tea. In fact, a man named Lu Yu wrote a book just about tea, late in the eighth century.

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Soon after this, tea travelled to Japan. Japanese Buddhist priests travelled to China. And they brought tea back with them. In Japan, people developed special ceremonies to serve tea. Serving tea became a new form of art. It was most common among wealthy people.

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Tea was an important part of both Chinese and Japanese culture. It had travelled to other Asian countries too. But tea had not yet travelled anywhere else in the world. Finally, in the late 1500s, Portuguese travellers brought small amounts of tea back to Europe. Portugal was one of the first European countries to trade with China. Portugal worked with the Netherlands to move the tea through Europe. Dutch ships took tea to France and other countries on the Baltic Sea.

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Only very wealthy people had enough money to drink tea in Europe. It took many months to transport the tea from Asia. And only a limited amount was transported. But more countries started to trade with China. They also brought tea back to Europe. Prices became lower, and more people could drink tea.

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Today, England is the European country most known for tea. British traders started shipping tea to England in the late 1600s. Tea trade had become a very profitable business. England imported about 18,000 kilograms of tea a year in 1699. Ten years later, the country imported six times that amount of tea!

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British colonists also brought tea wherever they settled. Tea became very important in India. It is still a very important crop there. And Indian tea is known around the world.

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Tea played an important part in one British colony you might know. This colony is now known as the United States of America. England sent tea to America. But as time went on, England raised the taxes on the tea and other goods it sent. The people living in the colonies did not like these taxes. To protest the high taxes, a group of colonists took a large shipment of tea and threw it into the ocean. Today, this event is known as “The Boston Tea Party”. It was one of the most important events in the American Revolution.

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Tea has also changed over many years. In the past, people drank tea by putting the leaves directly into the water. But around 1908, an American inventor developed a new method – tea bags. Thomas Sullivan put the tea in a small silk bag. This bag of tea could be put directly into the hot water.

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At first people, in Britain did not like tea bags. But during World War II, people could not get their normal tea. So they had to use tea bags. Today most tea bags are made of paper. And they are very popular in many parts of the world.

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Today, people on every continent drink tea. But people in different places drink tea differently. In the United Kingdom, tea became part of the daily meal.

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Traditionally, two meals involved tea in British homes. These meals became popular in the 1600s. The first was afternoon tea – or “low tea”. This was popular among wealthy people. They would drink tea and eat small sandwiches of meat and bread. This meal happened around three o-clock in the afternoon. The other meal was called “high tea.” High tea was a larger meal eaten later in the night. It was popular among poorer people.

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In Western Asia and the Middle East, a popular way to enjoy tea is as Masala Chai. Masala Chai is a drink made from black tea. But this drink has sugar, spices and milk in it.

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Around the world, people boil plants and flowers to make drinks similar to tea. These are called tisanes. A tisane is any drink made from hot water and any plant material, except from the tea plant. They are also often called herbal teas.

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In areas of South America people enjoy a particular tisane. The drink is called Mate. People make it from the leaves of the yerba mate plant. A person puts dry yerba mate leaves into a dry gourd. This is a container made from a dried vegetable skin. He then adds water to the gourd. He drinks the liquid through a thin metal tube – a bombilla.

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People in Southern Africa make a drink called rooibos. This hot drink is made similar to tea. But instead of tea leaves, it uses the leaves from the rooibos plant. The drink is a red color, and is often called red tea.

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However you drink tea, the next time you have a cup, think of all the people around the world who are joining you! Enjoy!

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Do you drink tea? What kinds of tea do you drink? Tell us what you think! You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 1  

The writer of this program was Joshua Leo. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called “The Amazing History of Tea”.

Voice 2  

Visit our website to download our free official app for Android and Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


Do you drink tea or tisanes? What is your favorite kind of tea?

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Join the discussion

  • Yeah,I like drinks tea with milk
    Here in my country, we used bag tea and find two kinds of tea it’s (black and green)
    We put the bag tea in hot water and put little sugar and if you want milk can you put some milk it amazing with sandwiched in morning.

  • Yeah,I like drinks tea with milk
    Here in my country, we used tea bags and find two kinds of tea it’s (black and green)
    We put the tea bags into hot water and put little sugar and if you want milk can you put some milk it amazing with sandwiched in morning.

  • Yes i do like Tea, it is like a life for me. the most of people usually drink coffee in the morning but i think i am different because i don’t feel woke up with out drink my red teaY

  • First of all thank you for the podcast it’s interesting!
    Second off all I really don’t like tea cold or hot but maybe I can drink it with flavours or milk
    Third of all I,m a coffee lover
    and I think when I say first, second, third > maybe it’s cringe in english culture hhhhhhh however nevermind I am learning

  • we drink tea every day and tea is the main part of our breakfast meal. we also drink tea in the afternoon.  black tea is more popular in my country. we drink hot tea because we believe that cold tea is not healthy. we add Saffron or cardamom to make it more delicious and we drink it with sugar or date

  • Thank you very much for giving a lot of knowledge to the audience
    I’ve been a fan of the program for a long time, every week I listen to it
    Not only let me hear English with a native accent, but also gain knowledge about history and life science, culture, everything becomes closer and easier to understand.
    a useful program
    Talking about the topic of tea today, I want to share, in our country, when guests come to a person’s house, people often invite tea, drink tea after a meal.
    Use tea to make a mouthwash to effectively prevent tooth decay, beautify and if you have a sore mouth, drinking tea will help you get rid of pimples in your mouth.
    Nowadays young people like to drink milk tea, this is a popular drink, if you want to invite your friends out and chat, you will say “milk tea?”

  • Of course I drink tea, our tea called Atay, we made it by hot water with green tea and mint, it’s amazing tast.

  • Yes I drink tea with eat some sandwich, but,my favorite drink is coffee.often I drink tea bags because easy used and common. I loved the information in this broadcast, example the tea profitable business and beginning tea story and revolution United States and war of independence and the Boston Tea Party .

  • Yes I drink tea, and my favorite tea is red tea.
    Actually I don’t know that Africans used sage leaves instead of tea leaves.

  • I like drink a dark coffee at 3 time every day.
    and thanks you, , you podcast is amazing

  • In my country Its usually drink tisanes makes whit plants or flowers medicals to cure, for example: chamomile, rosemary, thyme, bougainvillea.
    I like strong taste, like chai.

  • For me Tea the best hot drink I drink it for many of reasons its give me energy and enough caffeine for my day

  • I am pleased, first of all, to give a good greeting to everyone in this program.. I love tea a lot, especially black tea.. I enjoy drinking it especially in the early morning hours and after heavy meals. In my country, tea is one of the main drinks served on occasions.

  • I prefer to drink hot red tea early in the morning. While I drink green tea after heavy meals

  • We are drink tea with milk everyday with breakfast meal in egypt we can not imagne our day start without it hahahahaha

  • First of all, thank you for the podcast was amazing
    second of all in my country, we drink the tea at different times in the morning with breakfast and evening with some cookies, and for me, the best moment is when I drink the tea at midnight, with some basil the taste was different, and when I’m in a good mood I take ice tea with peach it’s very refreshing.

  • Hi, spotlight I am enjoying to listen for the topics in spotlight. In fact I don’t drink tea so much I drink it with breakfast, or sometimes with my family, and I drink a normal tea its color is red.

  • Of course ! who don’t like to drink tea ?
    My favourite kind of tea is ice tea
    I love the peach flavor
    And I drink it everyday it makes me relaxed and in good mood ‍♀️
    I’m here because of Abdurahman Hejazy
    Hii man ‍♀️

  • Firstly , thank you so much, l like this story it is a great story !

    About your question, yes , l drink the black tea with milk sometime , l drink it every morning!

  • Of course, I like to drink tea. Indeed, I rather drink tea than other drinks. I drink any time during my day. However, I like black tea, mint tea and milk tea.

  • In Middle East especially Saudi Arabia have a lot of kind tea like Mint or hbq(basil-like plant) with hot water

  • yes so much , i’m really obsessed with drinking tea , I can’t stop drink it . i actually like to drink the black one .

  • When I wake up early in the morning, I drink Yerba maté tea, with caramel. The taste and energii of it, is amaizing! Im in spirits all morning!

  • When I wake up early in the morning 2:45 a.m. because of work, I drink tea Yerba mate with caramel. It is a great taste and energii. All the morning Im in spirits!

  • Of course i drink tea and i drink deferent type of tea but most drinking at night green tea and in the morning the original red tea

  • first of all i want to thank you for the greet work you did
    about the: Q
    yes i drink tea & i like it more than coffee
    i prefer hot black tea this my favorite flavor

  • Wow I enjoyed with this conversation it is very interesting , l like tea with some sugar also i like tea with milk too in iraq we as drink tea in every time

  • First iff all , i would like to say Thank you for the podcast , actually was very important, and i would like to tell you about our culture here in Saudi Arabia, we are drink it a lot of tea in the morning with first meal

  • I don’t drink tea usually These days becose my doctor she say don’t drink tea pot I love drink tea and coffee pot this is for my health ,OK this no bad for me.

  • Yes I drinks tea , i love red tea but sometimes i put with red tea milk its give the tea a different taste and its good for me and i love it

  • I’m in Ha Giang, Vietnam. Our home town is one of most famous places for tea in Vietnam. Mostly I drink tea in the old way, just boil leaves of tea and drink. But my parents prefer herbal tea, they can make it by themselves, it’s also my favorite drink.

  • Thank u for this podcast it was really good!!<3
    I don’t really like tea but sometimes when i eat my breakfast i like to drink something with it so i make to my self some tea with milk because I don’t like drinking tea with out milk, but my dad and my mom have this obsession with tea they don’t mind drinking tea all the time

  • Yes, I like drink green tea. Sometimes I drink herbal tea, it’s chamomile or rosehip.
    In my country green and black tea is most popular.

  • Yes, I drink tee I love to drink red & green tea
    With mints flavour.We use to have green tee after lunch time to help digesting.

  • actually i like tea but not to much for example i like drink green tea after hearty and heavy meal its really makes me feel good and healthy i suggest you try it 🙂

  • Yes, i really like tea but i don’t usually drink it because the actively addictive ingredient in its can make people can sleep in a long time.

  • Yes , I drink tea with mint this my faforit vlafor , but my mom and sister drink tea with milk and littel sugar , also tea with sandwich in morning usually best

  • Yes , i drink tea most of times
    and for real i liked it when the tea came with a bag and with mint
    But i liked it more when it with milk and some sugar it amazing with any sandwich in the morning before go to school.

  • Yaeh , I drink the tea . My favorite tea is green tea with flowers and peach tea . Thanks for this good brodcast .

  • Yes , i drink tea every day . My favourite kind of tea is classic tea with mint. The tea is consider a common drink in our country , especially my home the tea drink must available in daily meals. Iam so interested about the tea story and i have a conflict about some words like tisance .I will getting search about the meaning of these words.thanks a lot .

  • Vietnamese love tea (we also have Vietnamese tea culture). But I don’t really like green tea, because it tastes a litter bitter, you know. Actually, I like to drink milk tea more than traditional green tea. Or sometimes when I hang out with my friends, I will have a cup of lemon tea (tea with lemon juice and sugar).

  • First of all, my mother prepares tisanes to me when I am patient or I have influenza .Moreover, My favorite tea is black tea , way of preparation it by Heating the water then put tea bag after that let the tea some minutes during it the tea will convert from red to black ,it is very delicious Especially in the winter season

  • I like drink tea and all my family like we drink it like a America
    They drink at afternoon we do that but not at 3 pm 4pm or 5pm
    Without sandwich and sometimes we drinks after dinner!

  • yes c I drink Tea, it’s not my favorite drink but I like it .. in our country ‘Middle East we drink it with milk also and with some spices,, yummy!

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