Tea and Wine: The History of Two Common Beverages

After water, the next popular drink in the world is tea. Tea has been around for millenniums and has become a household staple, similar to wine. Though two very different beverages, tea and wine have a lot in common. Their history can be traced back to 2732 BC and 5000 BC, respectively.

Legend says that the ancient Chinese emperor, Shennong was the first man to drink tea. The story goes like this: Emperor Shennong liked his water boiled before drinking. One day when a servant was boiling water for the emperor, a wild tea leaf fell in the pot without the servant noticing.

Tea and wine

Shennong Yan Emperor

The servant presented the water to the emperor, who found it refreshing and pleasant. He inquired as to what was added to give the water the distinct taste and pleasant smell. And just like that the first tea was made in ancient China! Afterward, the emperor was said to have described the drink as “an intriguing brew,” and he went on to name it “Ch’a” (a Chinese word that translates into “check” or ” investigate”). The legend says that he gave it this name because he felt the brew “investigate” or “check” virtually every part of his body.[1]

Tea is regarded as a medicinal beverage. The preparation process is simple; just pour hot or boiling water over the leaves of Camellia sinensis — an evergreen shrub native to East Asia, India, and China. Just as there is a high demand for tea around the world, there is also a wide variety of types of tea. They all have distinct tastes, aromas, and profiles — they can be sweet, floral, have grassy notes, or even give off a nutty flavor. Some tea varieties can be slightly bitter, astringent, or have a cooling feel.

The similarities between tea and wine

Although initially regarded as medicinal, tea became famous as a recreational drink in China during the Tang dynasty. It eventually made its way into Europe through merchants and Portuguese priests in the 16th century. To paint a picture of how deeply traditional tea is in China, a tea museum (similar to Disneyland) was created to honor the Chinese tea drinking tradition — called the Tenfu Tea Museum.

There is also a school where it is possible to study and receive a Tea Art Certificate, called the Shanghai Tea Institute. Today, tea, even more so than wine, is a staple beverage in virtually every part of the world, including Japan (where they have the famous tea ceremony — “Chanoyu”) and Tibet (where tea is a staple and people consume upwards of 40 cups per day).[2] Lush tea plantations also thrive in many parts of the world including China, India, the Middle East, and even parts of Africa. 

Tea and wine share many common themes such as tannins, aromas, the idea of terroir, and cultural drinking ceremonies. To help us understand the relationship between wine and tea, let’s narrow our focus on wine and Chinese tea.

Taste and Aroma

Certain types of wine and tea can share similar aromas  — scents like forest floor, earth, and dried leaves. They both have layers of aromas making the taste and smell very complex. Wines that shares similar scents to tea includes vintage Bordeaux reds, Brunello, Barolo, and Northern Rhone reds. There are also varieties of tea with aromas more similar to white wine.

Tannins also play a central role in giving both tea and wine (red and a handful of white wines) their distinct taste and mouthfeel. High tannins in tea often give a bitter flavor and an astringent mouthfeel. In wine, tannins are responsible for the mouth-drying sensation after drinking a sip, especially in a heavy bodied red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Terroir

Specific environmental factors in the growing of tea and wine grapes impact the final flavor and aroma of both tea and wine. Together these factors are known as terroir. Even though this term is mostly used in wine, it also applies to tea. Terroir includes the soil type and conditions, topography, and climate of the region where they are grown. Wine and tea terroir give these beverages a unique flavor and taste, making it possible to tell which area the wine and tea come from, as well as how they were cultivated.

What do winemakers and tea producers have in common

Additionally, the makers and growers of these two beverages have similarities. They both have a significant impact on the final outcome of production. In tea production, the plantation often has to decide the best time to harvest the tea bushes (after careful inspection). Similarly, winemakers take time to comb through the vineyard and taste the grapes to see if they have attained the desired ripeness and if they are ready to be picked.

Another similarity is both winemakers and tea producers sort and then blend their harvest to achieve a final product. Last but not least, both of these beverages have a cultural ceremonial themes and elements that makes drinking them enjoyable. One often takes time to relax and enjoy the complex aromas and flavors in both of these beverages. See more articles here.

On this day in history

October 12, 1712 — The first-ever tea shop in England was opened. It was owned by Thomas Twining, an English Merchant who died on May 19, 1741. 1192–1333 — Records of the first tea ceremony in Japan date back to the kamukara era. Though it originated in China, the Zen monks embraced it and practiced it —  they drank tea to help them stay awake during protracted meditation sessions. The ceremony later became recognized as a ritual for honoring the Zen Buddhism patriarch, Bodhidharma. The ceremony is called sadõ or chadō, meaning “way of tea.” 1934 — The famous  “Fêtes des Vendanges,” one of the globally recognized annual wine festivals, was launched in Paris, France. The name “Fêtes des Vendanges” translates into ” grape harvest festival,” and the ceremony is performed to honor Vignes du Clos Montmartre, a vineyard located in the Montmarte neighborhood. This neighborhood is renowned for its quality production of Pinot Noir and Gamay.

Want to read more about wine? Try reading these books!

The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia

Wineries of the World: Architecture and Viniculture

References

  1. “Tea – Wikipedia.” 2022. En.M.Wikipedia.Org. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea.
  2. “The History Of Tea In Japan – Who Introduced Tea To Japan? – Topictea”. 2022. Topictea.Com. https://topictea.com/blogs/tea-blog/the-history-of-tea-in-japan/.
  3. Photo Attribution – Xu Jetian, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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