BRITISH MUSEUM - Saturday 9th December 2017 Gallery Talk

TEA CULTURES OF INDIA: a bitter-sweet bouquet

LEAVES THAT SHAPED THE WORLD: Tea - chewed, infused, perfumed

The natural botanical disctribution of tea (Camellia sinensis) is found in an area incorporating China's south western provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, the upper Brahmaputra River Valley of India in the province of Assam, the upper Irrawaddy River in the northern parts of Mayanmar, Thailand and Indochina. The history of tea is as convoluted and fascinating as the twisting mountains, valleys and plateaux of its native region in the foothills of the Himalayas. This ecological niche is sub-tropical, with lush, abounding vegetation. Its inhabitants are historically of Austroasiatic descent comprising many different groups; tea was first chewed and used as a preserved vegetable and ancient methods of collecting, preparing and consuming the tea leaf are sill maintained. Tea became recognised for its health-giving properties, tonic effect and of sufficient value to be paid as vassel tribute.            






From its origins, an extraordinary array of tea traditions have spread across the world through not only trade, but turbulent politicts, religion, fashion and taste. Tea has been fought over as well as giving rise to exquisite poetry. It is synonymous with cultural identity in Britain, India and China and extends to tea traditions that formed in many other parts of the world including Tibet, Russia, Persia, Turkey and North Africa. No other beverage has produced as much social, ritual and object paraphernalia. Its etymology too has gone round the globe.  

Tea offered itself as a stimulant, a recuperative from hunger, thirst and fatigue, an agent of spiritual experience and a source of artistic inspiration. Tea cultures continue to develop today.

This talk will consider the tea history presented in the new Asia gallery of the British Museum. From the gradual understanding of its botany to the cultures that have been created around it, tea is a remarkable story.

Room 33, Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery, 1.15pm