Origins of Tea and Mindfulness

Teapot and cup of tea

At Dorothy’s Teas, we understand the importance of mindfulness and the role it plays in maintaining a healthy and peaceful mind. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, it is often hard to find the time for mindful moments, with commitments, work and family life often overtaking the ability to be truly present in the moment.

In this blog post we are taking a mindful journey back to the origins of tea drinking, exploring how and why customs of mindfulness and tea drinking became intertwined, and considering to what extent the concept of mindfulness exists in modern tea drinking. We will begin in ancient China, looking into Buddhism and meditation, before fast forwarding through time to the Japanese tea ceremony. After this we will jump continents and explore the English tea ceremony, or ‘afternoon tea’ of the 18th century, before ending with a peek into the role played by tea during the world wars of the 20th century. Through this voyage we hope to open your eyes to a new way of tea drinking, and introduce you to the ‘Mindful Tea Moment’.

(P.S. read to the end of this piece and find a special free PDF meditation, lovingly produced by us to help you find peace and tranquillity in your daily cuppa!)

The origins of mindful tea drinking:


The first known connections between tea drinking and meditation emerged after Buddhist monks and missionaries made their way to China in approximately 200 BCE via the silk road. By the time the monks arrived in China tea had been a staple beverage for approximately 3000 years, and was locally known for its refreshing and sustaining properties, alongside its ability to promote clarity of thought and tranquillity. Buddhism quickly spread throughout China, and pretty soon monks were incorporating their meditative practices into the ritual of tea drinking.

According to Buddhist tradition, only when a person is in a state of quietness and tranquillity will they be fully able to appreciate the true nature of tea. For this reason, it is said that tea and meditation are of one.

In a beautiful article from Buddhism Now titled The Way of Tea, Popchong Sunim discusses the ancient connection between tea and meditation, explaining: ‘Drinking tea gladdens the mind. The taste of tea is the taste of the entire universe because it is produced entirely through natural sunlight, water, wind, clouds and air.’[1] This philosophy has been present in China for over two thousand years, and still exists today. Over that time, it has evolved from a religious ritual into a cultural tradition, whereby modern Chinese tea etiquette has its values steeped in ancient Buddhist ideologies.

The Japanese Tea Ceremony

Japanese tea drinking

Moving forward through time, tea was first introduced to Japan in approximately 800 A.D., again by Buddhist monks, and quickly became a popular drink with religious, gentry and latterly warrior classes.  By the 15th century a form of tea ceremony had become popular whereby participants would combine the drinking of tea with a ceremony aimed at encouraging quiet and sobor refinement. In Japan, the ritual of making tea is of equal importance to drinking it; with the ceremony combining several intricate stages and meditative progressions. The purpose of the Japanese tea ceremony is ultimately to achieve inner peace and tranquillity, but also to create a bond between host and guest.

According to Japanese cultural scholar Adam Acar, the Japanese tea ceremony is conducive with practices of mindfulness and meditation due to the latter’s association with Zen Buddhism; a branch of Buddhism which has values based on transience, presence, selflessness and acceptance. The tea ceremony room, Acar says, is also ideal for the meditative process since it is traditionally simple, natural, harmonious and balanced. When you are in the simple and minimalistic environment, you start seeing beauty in things which you initially ignored or considered boring.[2] Japanese tea traditions then, associated as they were with Zen Buddhism and with traditional Japanese customs, developed into a form of tea ceremony which not only included the drinking of tea, but also took place within a special environment, developed specifically to encourage mindfulness and minimalism.

English Afternoon Tea

Dorothy s teas afternoon tea in england

Fast forward another thousand years, and nip across the globe to eighteenth-century England, and people were beginning to form their own, brand new versions of the tea ceremony. These practices, centring around the ritual of afternoon tea, focussed mostly on the social aspects of tea drinking, but also, as we shall see, brought in elements of communal mindfulness. In the absence of a Buddhist religion, together with its long-held associations with tea drinking in the East, the custom of taking tea in Britain begin to form its own links with ideas of mindfulness – traditions and practices set apart entirely from religious and spiritual doctrines.

Tea first arrived on British shores in the 1650’s, transported from China via Dutch trading ships. At first tea was enjoyed almost exclusively by the very highest ranks due to its incredible price, however, as years went by more and more of the British population were able to afford and consume tea, and progressively began to construct their own rituals and customs around it.

At a time when servants were conventionally called upon to serve food and drink to the higher ranks in Britain, the tea ceremony, conversely, was presided over by female members of the family, and took place around a specially designed ‘tea table’. As with the Japanese tea ceremony, the British equivalent served as a means to connecting host and guest over the ritual of tea; a mindful experience in itself together with a means of showing respect and displaying gratitude and attentiveness. In a society where introspection did not ostensibly exist in the same way as it did in Eastern Buddhist societies, mindfulness instead manifested itself here in a social setting; encouraging quiet and sobor discourse and allowing participants to enjoy discreet contemplation over the ritual of the tea table.

Tea in the Trenches

By the twentieth-century tea had been a mass consumed product in the United Kingdom for nearly 200 years, and 60 % of world tea exports were being shipped to British shores.[3] Indeed, tea had become such an important facet of British life that with the outbreak of war in 1914 the government refused to ration it alongside other staples like sugar and butter, believing that to reduce consumption would be bad for moral of the population.

In the trenches of the First World War, tea was a much-cherished provision; supplying warmth and nourishment for soldiers enduring extraordinarily harsh conditions. One first-hand account of tea in the trenches comes from Geoffrey Malins; a film maker famous for documenting the first world war and witnessing first-hand the horrors and trauma inflicted on young men and boys. Malins’ mentions of tea in the trenches emphasise above all the emotional and psychological impact that the simple ritual of drinking tea had on the soldiers; providing as it did a sense of regularity, structure and comfort alongside more physical qualities such as sustenance and warmth. Malins speaks of soldiers dodging shellfire and mustard gas and ‘Getting back to H.H. just in time for tea,’.[4] Here, it seems, in a situation of war and all of the horrors that came with it, tea became a source of comfort and relief, providing an escape – even for just a few minutes- from the unforgiving realities of life in the trenches.

During the Second World War, mobile tea caddies drove around the streets dishing out tea to whoever needed it, while families seeking protection in underground bunkers and air raid shelters would comfort each other over steaming dishes of tea distributed throughout the cities and towns. In the trenches also, tea was a much-cherished provision; supplying warmth and nourishment together with a familiar and comforting brew.

In the context of war, then, the notion of mindfulness takes on another guise; moving from a ritual aimed at enlightenment and sociability, to a comforting practice intended more for quiet morale boosting companionship; a ritual through which to take solace and calm the mind in the midst of chaos. When considering the horrors of war, it is easy to appreciate that during a time of such trauma and upheaval that the small act of taking a couple of minutes to sit and drink a cup of tea in sobor companionship could become such a treasured and anticipated comfort. 

These traditions, though rooted in ancient religious customs, have continued to flourish in eastern tea drinking practices. In the west, however, many have got out of the way of this mindful approach to tea drinking, instead opting for convenience over enjoyment and speed over mindfulness. The introduction of the teabag in the 1930’s further added to the decline in the mindful consumption of tea, speeding up the process of tea making to a point whereby a relatively strong cup of tea could be ready in about 2-3 minutes; a timeframe which suited the increasingly busy pace of 20th century life. In order to get back to a more meditative and healthy approach to tea drinking we need to ditch the teabag and focus the senses on being in the moment and appreciating the more mindful properties of tea.

Tea leaves

At Dorothy’s Teas, we encourage a mindful approach to tea drinking - a focus which encourages both an appreciation of the tea itself and a meditative contemplation, helping soothe the mind and calm the body.

Please enjoy our 10-minute tea meditation guide, also available as a downloadable PDF.


[1] Buddhism Now, The Way of Tea, Popchong Sunim interviewed by Martine Batchelor. Available at:

[2] Adam Acar, What is the Connection Between Tea Ceremony and Meditation. Available at:

[3] Jane Pettigrew, A Social History of Tea, National Trust Enterprises Ltd (2001), p 146

[4] Fiona Robinson, Ghosts of 1914 (2011). Available at:

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