The Legend of Silk and Tea

When you think of luxuries, you might think of sparkly diamonds, fast cars, mansions, smooth silk and, of course, delicious tea. It is not surprising, therefore, that the last two are actually related. The first one helped in the discovery of the other, making great developments for both.

There is a legend surrounding this. According to this, the process of making silk was first invented by the wife of the Leizu, also 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 suddenly fell into her tea and because of the heat from the drink, the cocoon was unravelled.

As she carefully unwound it, she noticed that the cocoon was actually made from a long thread that was both strong and soft. The idea came to her then that these threads could be used to make cloth.

The Empress convinced her husband to build her a grove of mulberry trees, where she could domesticate the worms that made these cocoons. She was also believed to have developed the 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. Aside from silk, one of the popular items traded along this route was tea, which was becoming quite popular in India, Turkey and Russia.

The next time silk and tea harmonised was in 1904, when tea merchant Thomas Sullivan put loose tea into silk pouches to send as samples (instead of the more expensive tins). His clients, who were confused by the new packaging, threw the pouch in, silk and all to the water. Thus, the teabag was born.

Tea and silk – who knew?

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