History of the Tea Trade: The Silk Road

History of the Tea Trade: The Silk Road

This month, Heavenly Tea Leaves pays homage to the famous historical path from East to West that made it possible for the whole world to unite over tea as we do today. 

The Silk Road was an ancient 7,000-kilometer trade route spanning from China to the Mediterranean Sea that lasted from about 100 B.C. until the Middle ages. In addition to the silk for which it was named, the various peoples of Asia transported all types of commodities and other goods along the route, from jewelry and spices to rice and ivory. One of the most important introductions to the West, thanks to the Silk Road, was a newly steeped beverage popular in China called tea!

The origin of tea growth and consumption is disputed, but it is likely in China's Tang or Western Han Dynasty, possibly more than 2,000 years ago. Around the year 400 C.E., farmers started harvesting tea as opposed to picking leaves from wild trees, which led to vaster production, then demand, then trade.

Initially, in China, tea leaves would be condensed and mixed with spices and fruit essences, then boiled with water in traditional porcelain pots (much like the teas we offer today!). Methods of brewing, though, varied from culture to culture. The tea trade slowly expanded west from China and Mongolia to India and Turkey and beyond. Tea was exchanged for everything from ponies to jewels, dried herbs, and spices. In addition to the Silk Road, another, smaller path, containing a caravan network, called the Tea Horse Road also became important in facilitating the tea trade in China and Tibet.

Tea eventually gained prestige and status, sometimes being given as elaborate gifts to royalty and nobility. Even after the Silk Road fell out of use for more modern forms of trade and transport, the global tea trade boomed.

By the early 1900s, tea was being grown in new places like Indonesia, Sumatra, Kenya, and other parts of Africa; tea bags and sachets emerged as the easier way for individuals to brew tea, and this comforting drink was being consumed just about everywhere. Tea began to be commercially distributed by pioneer tea companies like Twinings, which paved the way for today's worldwide tea industry.

Last year, the life of tea merchants on the revered Silk Road was commemorated. Convoys of camels and horses traveled through China and Kazakhstan, mimicking what the experience would have been like millennia ago.

At Heavenly Tea Leaves, we honor the legacy of the Silk Road with our mission of returning to gourmet, hand-selected blends that put quality first. This holiday season, we commemorate the epic Silk Road and the gifts it has brought to us from the Orient. We are thankful for the opportunity to sit around our tables with family and friends and enjoy a meal, laughter, and a nice, warm cup of Heavenly Tea.

Comments on this post (14)

  • May 04, 2023


    — unknown

  • May 04, 2023

    the person that said we love harry styles 💀

    super slay article if i do say so myself. very intriguing. sLaY

    — slaya

  • Dec 14, 2022

    super cool. helpful and slay. love the silk road fr.

    — bklyn teya

  • Nov 07, 2022

    tea slay’s

    — your mom

  • Oct 06, 2022

    no good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    — no

  • Apr 20, 2022

    very helpful for a school project

    — JL

  • Apr 20, 2022

    I am doing a project about tea diffusion and this really helped out!! Thank you! I was able to know where and how it spread and how valuable it was. I knew a few things already from my research but this was the only site that used understandable English and had enough information. Some site sure use a lot of complex words and made me confused which later found out that the site only said “Tea was from China”. I laughed when I realized it. Really thank you again. If you could receive my request, can you also write about the movement of spices? Maybe you have already? Then I’ll look for it!! Can you search from this site?

    — Mayalita

  • Oct 28, 2021

    we love harry styles

    — ruben & kaleb

  • Jun 21, 2021

    Good info and excellent map. Thank you

    — greg

  • Apr 09, 2021

    The person below me doesn’t appreciate history and is in 4th grade.

    — Sal

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