The Story of Tea

by Melannie Svoboda SND on February 19, 2018

The other afternoon, I made myself a cup of hot tea. As I poured the boiling water into the cup with the tea bag, I thought: “I bet tea has a fascinating history.” So I did a little reading and came up with this.

Legend says that tea was discovered in 2737 B.C. by a Chinese emperor named Shen-Ning. Evidently, as he was boiling a pot of water one day, some tea leaves accidently fell in. That’s the legend. But here are a few facts. Ceramic tea pots were used in Asia and the Middle East 11,000 years ago. In the beginning, tea was considered medicinal and was sold in ancient “pharmacies.” Even today many health professionals say that tea is good for you. Supposedly, it contains antioxidants that can repair cells in the body.

The word for tea reflects tea’s history and universality. The words for tea in virtually every language fall into three groups: te, cha, chai. In these words, we see the transmission of tea from China to the rest of the world. This is how you say tea in the following languages: Spanish, Swedish, Italian: te; French: le the; Irish: tae; German: tee; Czech: caj (pronounced cha-y); Russian: chay; Hebrew: teh; Arabic: chai or shai; Swahili; chai. The upshot is, if you want a cup of tea anywhere in the world just say cha, chai, or tea and chances are you’ll get one!

China and Indian are the largest producers of tea. The best teas seem to come from higher elevations and are hand-picked. It takes about 2,000 tiny tea leaves to make one pound of finished tea. Which tea is the best in the world? Tea connoisseurs say it is Darjeeling tea. This “champagne of tea” is grown in India at the foot of the Himalayas in an area that is only 70 square miles.

Tea being picked by hand.

Today there are roughly 1500 different kinds of tea. When we think of tea, many of us think of England. In British novels, films, and TV shows, the Brits are always offering each other a cup of tea. Today the U.K. drinks 6.2 billion cups of tea a year. That’s 65 million cups a day. Those of us in the United States still prefer coffee over tea. Interestingly, 85% of the tea consumed in the U.S. is iced tea.

Speaking of iced tea, the person credited with serving the first iced tea was a British tea seller at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. It seems the weather was exceptionally hot at that time. The tea seller was distraught as the crowds passed by his tea stand in search of cooler drinks. That’s when he got a brilliant idea. He threw some ice into his tea and presto! Iced tea was born!

The tea bag was invented a few years later by another tea seller, Thomas Sullivan. In 1908, he decided to send samples of his tea to his customers in small silken bags. The customers thought the bags were to be used in the same way as the metal infusers they ordinarily used. So they threw the little bags into their tea cups. Eventually Sullivan began to make the bags out of paper. At first, the British were wary of using tea bags. In the 1960’s, tea bags accounted for only 3% of the tea sold in Great Britain. But today, tea bags account for 96% of the tea sold there. The Brits were converted to the American labor-saving device called a tea bag.

Did Jesus drink tea? Most historians say no. Tea was unknown in that part of the world in Jesus’ time.

Tea growing on the hillsides.

The story of tea is a fascinating one. Historically, it was the British tax on tea that led to American Independence. Before that, tea was a major factor in connecting the East and the West. Today, tea is still connecting people everywhere. Tea is consumed by more people in the world than any other beverage—except water!

Do you drink tea? Hot or iced or both?

Does tea play a significant role in your life? If so, how?

Tea is a great connector of people. Can you think of other things that connect people around the world?

I chose a song by Carrie Newcomer entitled “Room at the Table.” The spirit of this song coincides with welcoming someone in for a cup of tea. The images here tell us of other “things” that unite us as human beings: music and dance!

PS: I ask your prayers for two presentations I’m giving this week. The first is a retreat day on Saturday, Feb, 24 at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL. Entitled “A Celebration of Hope,” the retreat goes from 10:00 to 3:00. The contact person is Dr. Evelyn Allen at 239-348-2492. The second one is on Monday, February 26 at Espirtu Santo Parish in Safety Harbor, FL. I’ll be speaking on “Hanging onto Hope in Today’s World” after the 8:30 am Mass. See Deacon Steve for details at 727-726-8477. Thank you!


I welcome your responses below to today’s post!



{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Lu February 19, 2018 at 3:20 am

Interesting Story and Beautiful Music ! Thank You Sister


Valerie Sweeney February 19, 2018 at 5:18 am

Hi Melannie, I’m reading your blog in India where I am renewing my enjoyment of a good cup of chai! There is nothing like the way tea is prepared in India. It’s great to be back among our wonderful sisters of Notre Dame here. Lots of memories of our Golden Jubilee tour in 1998!


Kathleen February 19, 2018 at 5:21 am

Great song Sr. Melannie! It is a good reminder during the season of Lent.

Safe travels.



Denise February 19, 2018 at 5:35 am

Dear Sister,
I love tea and drink mine with milk and sugar which we call the Irish way.
I have,on occasion, hosted a tea party and found friends and family enthusiastic to experience the venue.
We forgo the formality of dress code, comfortable and cozy are more our style.
Pouring tea from a pot into cups to be stirred and then sipped set a leisurely tempo. A collective sigh went up from round the table.


michelle February 19, 2018 at 5:36 am

Is it really tea if it has only herbs in it ? That is what i like to drink. Thank you for the video. I really liked that. It will be in my head all day. Blessing on you and all who gather at the retreats. Enjoy that warm weather in Florida.


Mary james February 19, 2018 at 8:17 am

I think you just made area drinker out of me . And I loved
The dancing! The shoeless clogging is a wonderful image and
meditation for me. God bless


Kathy February 19, 2018 at 8:59 am

Love the song!
I’m currently trying to drink less coffee and more herbal tea, I think it is supposed to be better for me.
The question “did Jesus drink tea?” called up a tender memory. My grandparents moved to Florida when I was young, and we’d visit every year. They drank lots of iced tea, which Grandma instructed me in making as she called it “the Lord’s way”. Cold tea in a clear glass jar, put in several tea bags, and let it sit in the hot Florida sun all morning. By noon it was ready to add ice and sugar, then enjoy!
Will certainly pray for your presentations. I’m sure all of south Florida needs prayers especially at this time.


Joni Dugan February 19, 2018 at 9:21 am

Melannie, JoAnne loves Chai — makes up her own concoction. It is growing on me.
When you go to Safety Harbor be sure and look up Sr. Paulamarie Lacy.She is just a sweetheart. I guess you know that though considering both SND’Therese is down there somewhere: Clearwater I’m not sure how close that is. Have a safe trip. Diamond Jubilee is June 24 in Chardon. Guess I will be heading up that way. Hope you are around. Take care—-Joni

No need to respond —I know you are swamped. Prayers for you and the 2 retreats and all those folks.


John Hopkins February 19, 2018 at 9:22 am

Good morning, Melannie. Have to admit I’m a coffee drinker. Love the song and the video. Inclusiveness is a wonderful thing! Good luck in your upcoming retreats. Florida needs the gospel message of hope more than ever right now. We all do!


Janet February 19, 2018 at 10:38 am

Loved the song and love my tea I enjoy reading your blog so much. Thank you. Would enjoy hearing you speak. Maybe someday


Joe Johnson February 19, 2018 at 11:04 am

Hi I drink cocoanut macadamia nut tea after sampling it in Hawaii several years ago. It’s good!


Mary Schneider February 19, 2018 at 11:18 am

Sr. Melannie: Every morning I have a cup of my favorite tea (Punjana) with milk and sweetner. Throughout the day I drink herbal (non-caffeinated) tea, usually 4-5 cups per day. Another one of God’s generous gifts to all of us.


Nancy February 19, 2018 at 11:44 am

Dear Sr. Melannie: Looking forward to being with you on Saturday at St. Peter’s. Our hearts are heavy with sadness and need your message of hope!


Peggie February 19, 2018 at 11:45 am

Thank you for that lovely history. Your thoughts make for a gentle, prayerful, and always very special, Monday morning …….with my cup of tea. My prayers are with you as you go about opening eyes and hearts.


Nancy February 19, 2018 at 11:55 am

we all might need a good cup of tea!


Carolyn February 19, 2018 at 12:02 pm

Melanie…THANK YOU! I fail to do what I mean to do all the time. I LOVE your blogs and I THANK YOU for all the inspiration they are to me…many really touch the heart specially…Today and tea…made me more aware of reaching out to others…I’ve been drinking tea more lately….


Thomas DeFreitas February 19, 2018 at 6:41 pm

Hot tea generally, Celestial Seasonings usually, favoring their cinnamon-apple variety.

Other things that connect people around the world? I’m slightly biased, but I’d like to think that poetry connects people.


Sister MaryEamon Lyng February 19, 2018 at 7:16 pm

Beautiful song and a great message on tea! We will keep you prayer for your days of presentation. The Sisters are on retreat this week and we have a Community meeting on Feb. 24. We could some prayers as well!

Sr. Eamon


Suzanne February 19, 2018 at 8:04 pm

Although I am more a coffee drinker than tea, there are days that I “savor” a good cup of Ahmad Apricot Sunrise – my favorite! I like to take some with me when I go on retreat.

A good novel around the history of tea as well as intrigue is Lisa See’s “A Tea Girl on Hummingbird Lane.”

Enjoy the warmth of Florida connecting with people with some ice tea!


Margo February 19, 2018 at 11:57 pm

Hi Sister Melannie, thank you for your commentary on tea.
Green tea is my first social beverage if the day as I sit down before my reflection from Jesus Calling. I like classic green most of the time without stevia. I sometimes have two by breakfast end. I’ll order iced tea when out. And an ice water with lemon.
I see where you will be there the 26th at Espirtu Sancto Church. It is a grace-filled space rich in Catholic history. And don’t forget to drink the springs water at the grand old Safety Harbor Resort & Spa. The water served in the restaurant is from the springs. Perhaps one day you will be
In St. Augustine at America’s First Parish, Cathedral Basilica if St. Augustine. I’ll pray for that!


Ellen February 20, 2018 at 11:27 am

Tea is something I drink every morning and especially have a cup while I am praying. The foundress of my Community, Catherine McAuley, told the Sisters when she was dying, “Have a comfortable cup of tea when I am gone”. Tea brings me back to my roots and is always a prayerful experience for me. Thank you for sharing the history.


Sr. Mary Ellen Doherty February 20, 2018 at 3:07 pm

Blessings, Melannie and all that you are doing to share joyful, hopeful News. I look forward to your blog each week and have read a number of your books.
Thank you for the history of tea and the inspirational song.
Mary Ellen


Pj noga February 21, 2018 at 7:40 pm

Dear Melannie, I love it .❤️ I drink lot of tea. Arizona green
Tea to be exact . It’s my coffee for the day usually
Two bottles or more. I love article there is always room for others at the table. I will pray for your presentations and retreat next weekend.
Sorry we’ll miss you at Nicole’s first profession. Many blessings
To you snd those you touch with your graced
Speaking and witness to the lord. God bless.❤️


Nancy Lilliott February 24, 2018 at 7:39 pm

I so enjoyed you presentation on Hope today in Naples. You have a wonderful gift. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.


Sunnie Poplar February 25, 2018 at 7:49 am

Always start the day with coffee, but drink tea the rest of the day and have multiple flavors to choose from.
Enjoy your trip to Naples.. I’m pretty sure my friend Nancy will be at the retreat………..wish I could be there too. Blessings.


Jean Canatsey February 26, 2018 at 10:18 am

I’m sitting here on my back porch, reading your blog and sipping a glass of iced tea. I was raised on iced tea and frequently drink it instead of water. I always have a pitcher in the refrigerator. I am very particular about my tea. I steep my own -none of this bottled stuff that passes for tea in the grocery. I prefer an orange and black pekoe blend and until A&P went out of business, I always drank their brand which wa called “Our Own”. I have found Lipton to be the closest in taste and a viable substitute. Since I am a realitively healthy 78, I have to believe that the good Lord put it upon this earth for both my enjoyment and my health.


Leave a Comment