Tea is considered to have originated in China. But it’s the delicate, fresh-tasting green tea that became popular in Eastern society and is still the base of tea culture there today. As tea culture spread and tea was processed for export to trade beyond regions, neighboring countries and eventually across oceans, it was discovered that the more oxidized black tea would retain its freshness and flavor better over long journeys than its minimally oxidized green tea cousin. In the earliest days of border trade between China, Tibet and other neighboring countries, tea was fermented, dried and pressed into bricks to be used as currency. To this day, most of the black tea produced in China is exported out of the country.
The Dutch first brought tea to Europe in 1610, it arrived in England in 1658, and then it rose in popularity in England’s American colonies throughout the 1700s. Demand for tea experienced huge leaps in the 1700s as England expanded sugar imports from its Caribbean colonies. By 1800, the English were annually consuming 2½ pounds of tea and 17 pounds of sugar per capita. Some claim it was the increasing trend of adding sugar to tea that spiked the demand for strong black tea over the more delicate green tea imports.
The next leap in black tea production came in the 1800s when the Camellia sinensis assamica tea plant variety was discovered in 1823 in the Assam region of India. This native variety was much better suited to the production of the hearty, bold black teas that were in high demand. Not long after, in 1835, the English started planting tea gardens in India’s Darjeeling region, near Nepal. Since India was a British colony, these different varieties of black teas quickly became popular exports to England.