Daily Prompt: The Ancient Tea Horse Road, China…

via Daily Prompt: Ancient


The ancient Tea-Horse Road was a trade route mainly through Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet. In ancient times, people in Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces exchanged tea for horses or medicines with people in Tibet. The tea, the medicine and other commodities were transported by mabang – groups of travelers with horses, the special mode of transportation in the south-western region of ancient China – and thus the pathway was called the Tea-Horse Road.

The Tea Horse Road or chamada (simplified Chinese: 茶马道; traditional Chinese: 茶馬道), now generally referred to as the Ancient Tea Horse Road or chamada (simplified Chinese: 茶马古道; traditional Chinese: 茶馬古道) was a network of caravan paths winding through the mountains of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou in Southwest China.[1] It is also sometimes referred to as the Southern Silk Road. The route extended to Bengal in South Asia.

Tieguanyin Tea


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In the early 1800’s tea grew in demand across the globe with lots of competition between shipowners. Finding the fastest way of transporting the tea along the Far East shipping routes lead to the development of the ‘Tea Clipper Races’.

“The Great Tea Race of 1866 was an unofficial competition between the fastest clipper ships of the China tea trade to bring the season’s first crop of tea to London in 1866[1].
Fierce competition existed year round to be the vessel first back to London with the new shipment of tea; extra incentives were added in 1866, when heavy bets were made in England on the winner.
The tea clipper races had by this time become a tradition in the tea trade between Britain and China. The winning vessel was awarded an extra pound sterling for every ton of freight delivered, and the captain of the winning tea clipper was given a percentage of the ship’s earnings.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Tea_Race_of_1866

By 1870 Ceylon (today, Sri Lanka) was one of the biggest names in tea although a bit of a late starter. Up until 1870 the country had only grown coffee but due to a fungus which caused a severe coffee blight their coffee industry was threatened overnight.

The coffee planters then decided to turn to the wild Ceylonese tea plant in an effort to reap some rewards. The success was immediate and still today Ceylonese tea is regarded as some of the best teas in the world.

The rapid expansion of the Ceylon’s tea industry brought a lot of interest from some large British companies and the first vessel recorded as carrying Ceylon tea to England was the steam-ship ‘Duke Argyll’ in 1877.

According to the Ceylon Tea Museum http://www.ceylonteamuseum.com/history.html Four estates were purchased by a grocer whose name is almost a synonym for tea: Thomas Lipton. Son of poor Irish immigrants, Lipton grew up amidst the slums of Glasgow. He left school at the age of 10 to help support his family and in 1865 sailed to America to work as a manual laborer and later managed a successful New York grocery store. It was here that he learned all the tricks and techniques of advertising and salesmanship that he later used to great effect when selling groceries and tea back in England and Scotland. He returned to Glasgow in 1871 and worked for a couple of years in the grocery shop run by his parents. By the age of 21, he had opened his own store, where he practised the retailing skills he had learned in America. His imaginative marketing and clever publicity stunts brought his new venture rapid success.

The rest, as they say is history.


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They think that around the 2nd or 3rd Century AD, the Mongolians and Tibetans learned to drink tea from the Chinese.

Compressed cakes of dried tea from China were transported by camel and the drink became the national drink of both races.

Some Turkish traders bartered for tea on the Mongolian borders in the late 6th Century.

Trade with the Arab world started in the 5th Century and 6th Century AD but there is no proof that tea was amongst the goods sold until the reign of Kablai Khan in the 13th Century.

During the 6th and 7th Century, the Arabs had a monopoly over trade between China and the West, but there is still no record of tea having changed hands. Marco Polo arrived in China in 1271 but still no tea was mentioned.

Then, in 1559, ‘Giambattista Ramusio, an Italian Civil Servant, wrote that a Persian traveller by the name of Hajji Mohammed had told him of ‘Chai Catai’, a herb used by the people of the Szechwan Province in China to make a medicine for stomach ache and gout.

From that point on, there were several references that indicated a growing awareness of tea, though still no record that it had arrived in a European Port.

The Portuguese were the first to set up a trading base on the Canton river in 1557 but shipped no tea.

The Dutch with a trading base in Bantam on the Isle of Java, sent their first carton of China Tea to Amsterdam in 1606.

In Holland the tea was sold in apothecaries shops and later in grocery shops which were called ‘colonial warehouses’.

By the mid 1600’s interest among the wealthy and upper classes in Europe for tea was a costly indulgence, and was beginning to grow and so the Dutch decided to re-export the tea they had shipped from China into Portugal, Germany and France.


In 1610 tea caught on in the West, The French East India Company established regular trade relations with the Far East, introducing tea to Holland in 1610, France in 1636 and England in 1650.

In 1644, under the charter granted by Elizabeth I, the East India Company had been in contact with China since 1637, but tea only appeared on import documents in 1644.

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