HistoryTea L. Golender, Bouquet, 2003

History of Tea : Botanics

The First Study

For several centuries Europeans drank tea without ever having seen a tea plant, because their traders were not allowed to travel inside China, the unique source of imported tea at that time. The first detailed study of tea published in Europe was written by Dr. Wilhelm ten Rhyne (1649-1700), a celebrated Dutch physician and botanist who also wrote the first account of * acupuncture. He lived in the Dutch 'factory' (trading post) on the artificial island of * Deshima in the harbor at Nagasaki from 1674 to 1676. He was a physician for the Dutch East India Company. His text on tea (written in Latin) was published in * Danzig in 1678, as an appendix to Jacob Breyn's Exoticarum plantarum centuria prima (First Century of Exotic Plants). It seems never to have been translated into English.

Exotic Pleasures

Some years later, in 1683, the great German scholar * Engelbert Kaempfer set out on a journey through Russia, Persia, Arabia and India. From there he took ship to Java, Siam, and finally Japan, where he too lived for a time on Deshima before returning to Europe in 1693. Kaempfer wrote his own account of Japanese tea to complement that of 'my much honored friend' ten Rhyne. It was published in the third fascicle of his Amoenitates Exoticae (Exotic Pleasures; 1712). * An English version of this has recently been published, translated and edited by Robert W. Carrubba in The Library of Renaissance Humanism. The library is a series of translations (and new editions of the texts that are not readily accessible) with scholarly introductions and notes of important works written in Latin during the Renaissance. Humanism was a Latin-based, international super-culture that dominated Europe from the late fourteenth through the seventeenth centuries. During this period most published literature was in Latin, and only gradually did the vernaculars become predominant. Almost all of the great vernacular writers composed in Latin as well as their native languages (from Petrarch and Boccaccio to Milton), and many great writers composed exclusively or mainly in Latin (Poinano, Erasmus, Lipsius, Secundus, and hundreds more), in part because of the vastly wider, international readership. The book of Kaempfer covers every aspect of tea growing, making, and brewing. Kaempfer's work in making Japan, and especially its botany, known in Europe, was hailed by the great botanist Linnaeus. The first edition of Linnaeus's Species Plantarum published in 1753 suggested calling the tea plant Thea sinensis, taking the Latin name for tea from Kaempfer.

The Error

Chinese tea was basically divided between green tea and black tea (often called bohea) in the European mind. Bohea is from Wu-i, pronounced by the Chinese bu-i, the name of the hills where this kind of tea is grown. Bohea tea, an inferior kind of black tea. The name was formerly applied to superior kinds of black tea, or to black tea in general. A rather fanciful English writer of the mid-18th century, John Hill, declared in his Treatise on Tea (1753), quite without proof, that they came from different varieties of plant. * Carl Linnaeus in the second edition of his Species duly distinguished between Thea viridis (green) and Thea bohea (black). Neither Kaempfer nor Linnaeus seem to have suspected that there might be a link between Thea and the genus later named Camellia after a Moravian * Jesuit called Kamel who studied Asian plants. * Georg Jeoseph Kamel ,whose name in Latin was Camellus was missionary to the Philippines, died in Manilla in 1706. It is speculated that he never saw a camellia. Camellias were named in posthumous honor of George Joseph Kamel by Carolus Linnaeus.

The Indian Tea

It was only in the early 19th century that tea plants and seeds were obtained, after the English decided to challenge China's monopoly by trying to grow tea in India. Then it was found that in fact *tea trees already grew wild, unrecognized, in the hills of Assam. A fierce debate raged as to whether these were identical with the Chinese variety, and whether Thea was a separate genus or part of the genus Camellia. It was finally settled by the * International Code of Botanical Nomenclature in 1905 that the tea tree's correct name, no matter where it grows, is Camellia sinensis (L.) O. Kuntze. The tea tree is native to the whole monsoon area of southeast Asia: Thailand, Burma, southwest China, Assam.

* Camellia Thea
* Tea Plant : Camellia japonica
* The International Camellia Society

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Last updated : 10-Aug-03