The First Mention of Tea in European Literature

Tea-drinking is one of the great temperance customs that the East shares most generously with the West; yet it was many centuries after tea was commonly used in the Orient that Europeans learned of it. Of the world’s three great temperance beverages – cocoa, tea, and coffee – cocoa was the first to be introduced into Europe, in 1528, by the Spanish.

It was almost a century later, in 1610, that the Dutch brought tea to Europe.

Coffee was introduced into Europe just a few years later, in 1615, by Venetian traders.

Italian geographer Giambattista Ramusio

The earliest known mention of tea in the literature of Europe appeared about 1559. It occurs as Chai Catai, “Tea of China,” in Navigationi e Viaggi (Voyages and Travels) by Giambattista Ramusio (1485-1557), a noted Venetian author who published a valuable collection of narratives of voyages and discoveries in ancient and modern times.

Ramusio, as secretary to the Venetian Council of Ten, collected some rare commercial information and met many famous travelers, among whom was Hajji Mahommed, or Chaggi Memet, the Persian merchant credited with having brought the first knowledge of tea to Europe. The paragraph containing the tea reference reads:

“The name of the narrator was Hajji Mahommed …. He told me that all over Cathay they made use of another plant or rather of its leaves. This is called by those people Chai Catai and grows in the district of Cathay which is called Cacian-fu [Szechwan]. This is commonly used and much esteemed over all those countries. They take of that herb, whether dry or fresh, and boil it well in water. One or two cups of this decoction taken on an empty stomach remove fever, headache, stomach-ache, pain in the side or in the joints, and it should be taken as hot as you can bear it. He said, besides, that it was good for no end of other ailments which he could not remember, but gout was one of them.”