Tea trading history: how it became a lucrative business?

Tea trading history: how it became a lucrative business?

Tea Trading: China’s first trade

Tea was first discovered and cultivated in China. It was a new beverage but gradually became very popular.

Photo courtesy of Dmitri Chertousov
Photo courtesy of Dmitri Chertousov

When China decided to begin trading with other countries, it was the only supplier. This was a great advantage to a soon-to-be a very profitable business. In historical documents, the first trades were made between the Chinese and the Portuguese in 16th century. But tea trading was still new and the Chinese government was very hesitant.

By 18th century, the trading was more open. England became China’s first prominent trading partner.
During this time, middle men for the trading were needed. So the jobs as middle-men were very desirable. Also they were also extremely profitable! Peaceful trading between China and Britain didn’t last long. The trading was unbalanced. There was more tea into England than wool into China.

To make the tea trades balanced, Britain exported Indian opium to China. This seems to be the trigger of Opium war between England and China. Some historians noted that Opium War wasn’t about addiction. It was about tea.

Tea trading: America brought back their own tea. Tea was brought to America by British East India Company. In 1773, the Boston tea party broke out due to high tea tax imposed on Americans. America’s revolution began.

When Americans won back their independence, they built their own ships to transport tea from Canton, China back to America. Americans’ ships were larger and faster and the East India Company’s ships. They also made the trips to Canton and back in 1/2 time of England’s ships.

China was no longer the only supplier

Trading became a booming market. Western countries were in fierce competition for the 1st harvest of tea in China.

Any ship that brought back the 1st harvest and the freshest tea leaves was awarded generously. The buyers were eager, the seller were even more anxious. The tea leaves were picked carefully to obtain more high-quality tea. The bidding started right after the early morning tea-tasting. To keep the freshness, tea were shipped shortly after bidding. The tea products often were placed on shelves the next morning.

Keep in mind that the fresher the leaves, the higher the price. Don’t want China to monopolize in tea trading, other Asian countries started to cultivate tea plants. By 19th century, tea plants were grown in Japan, Sri Lanka, and India. China was no longer the only supplier for this natural and wonderful drink.

India became China’s competition as a tea supplier

To decrease its dependency on China for tea, England tried to cultivate tea in India. India has tropical climate, perfect for tea growing. Growing Camellia Sinensis (or Chinese Camellia) was not as successful in India. India climate is different from China’s.

Soil in India is not suitable for Chinese Camellia. But Camellia Assam tea plant flourishes on Indian soil.
Charles Bruce was the pioneer in establishing tea trading with Assam tea in early 19th century. Assam tea plants were grown in Darjeeling, Dooars, and Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka). India became a prominent supplier of tea. Tea trading was shared between China and India. Although tea was introduced to India by British, tea is now still a popular drink in India.

How tea began to spread to the rest of the world

Almost 2 centuries later, tea plants are cultivated in many countries. To name a few prominent places: Japan, Sri Lanka, Kenya, South Africa, Vietnam, Brazil… Tea trading now is global to satisfy the growing love for this healthy and wonderful drink.