by chris — Posted in History, Tea Musings on June 23, 2016

That Tea Tastes Silky

When one thinks of the luxuries in life, you think of sparkly diamonds, fast cars, smooth silk and, of course, delicious tea.  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the last two are actually related: one helped in the discovery of the other, making great developments for both.

According to legend, the process for making silk was first invented by the wife of the Leizu, known as the Yellow Emperor, around 2696 BC in Ancient China. The story goes that the idea for silk first came to Empress Leizu while she was having tea in the imperial gardens. A cocoon fell into her tea and the heat from the drink unraveled it. As she unwound it, she noticed that the cocoon was actually made from a long thread that was both strong and soft, and the idea came to her that these threads could be used to make cloth.

Illustrated map depicting the journey of the Venetian merchant Marco Polo (1254 - 1324) along the silk road to China. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

Illustrated map depicting the journey of the Venetian merchant Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) along the silk road to China. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

The Empress entreated her husband to build her a grove of mulberry trees, where she could domesticate the worms that made these cocoons.  She also supposedly developed tools to weave these threads together, spreading this knowledge throughout China.

The silk from China became so popular in the West that the trade route from China to Europe became known as the Silk Road.  Besides silk, one of the popular items traded along this route was tea, which was becoming quite popular in India, Turkey and Russia.

It took a few hundred years for tea and silk to harmonize again, but in 1904 tea merchant Thomas Sullivan put loose tea into silk pouches to send as samples (instead of the more expensive tins).  His clients, confused by the new packaging, threw the pouch in, silk and all.  The teabag was born.

Tea and silk – who knew?