History of Tea & Trade

by Erica Gullickson, Robbinsdale Armstrong High School, Plymouth, MN

This lesson, designed for a secondary social studies classroom, examines the history of tea and the tea trade.  It would best fit with a world history or human geography course. The lesson uses maps, images, primary and expository texts. Students will examine and analyze both primary and secondary sources, consider point of view and gain a deeper understanding of the importance of tea and the tea trade to East Asia and the world.  The lesson may be taught in its entirely, or piece by piece. 

By the conclusion of the lesson, students will:

  • Understand the history of tea and the tea trade, from 2700 BCE to the 19th Century CE.
  • Determine the main ideas of an expository text and accurately summarize its contents. 
  • Evaluate primary and secondary sources.
  • Work independently and collaboratively.

Common Core Standards for Literacy in History/Social Science:

  • Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
  • Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources. 

Materials & Advanced Preparation:
Teachers will need the following materials:

Time Required:
3-4 class periods (45 minutes each)

On Day 1 of the lesson, students complete the first circle of the “Then and Now Circles”. Students may not be able to write/draw much in the circle. Teacher should collect and keep these until the end of the lesson. Share the “History of Tea & Trade” PowerPoint through Slide 6 (map of Tea Horse Road). 

While projecting Slide 6 for class to view, distribute a world atlas to each student. Ask each student to compare the map of Tea Horse Road with maps showing physical features, climate and ecosystems in South and Southwest Asia. Students should then respond to the Quick Write prompt on Slide 7. If time permits, students could participate in a Pair-Share with a peer, discussing similarities and differences in their Quick Write responses. 

On Day 2, start by reading aloud some students Quick Writes from Day 1. Show the map of the Tea Horse Road again and point out the physical features, climate and ecosystem regions that students may have mentioned. Show students the remainder of the “History of Tea & Trade” PowerPoint. Distribute copies of the reading “Tea Consumers, Tea Trade, and Colonial Cultivation” and the accompanying “Key Word Notes” worksheet to each student when you reach Slide 11. Read aloud the instructions for “Key Word Notes” and allow students time in class to read the article and complete “Key Word Notes”. Students should complete this and bring to class tomorrow.

On Day 3, place students in small groups of 3-4 students. Each group member should read aloud their summary of “Tea Consumers, Tea Trade, and Colonial Cultivation” to other group members. Groups should choose one member to share a summary with the larger class. Teacher should address any questions that arise from the reading.  

At this point, students can be kept in the same small groups or new ones may be formed. Distribute a copy of “DBQ” to each student. Read the directions, check for understanding, and allow students time in class to work through the DBQ. An additional day (Day 4) of class time may be needed. After completion of the DBQ, redistribute the “Then and Now Circles” to students.  Students will complete the second circle. This second circle (Now) should have much more than the first circle (Then), as students have spent 3 or 4 days learning about tea’s history and trade. 

The “Now” Circle of the “Then and Now Circles” handout as well as the DBQ questions on the “DBQ” handout can be used for assessment. 

For teachers wishing to extend the lesson, consider the following ideas:

  • Class discussion of tea’s importance in world history
  • Researching modern tea trade (20th Century – Today)
  • Researching status of Tea Horse Road today
  • Students write letters to policymakers regarding Fair Trade practices related to tea
  • Students compile data on different country’s tea consumption and/or production
  • Students compose an “I Am” poem, taking the persona of a tea grower, porter, trader, consumer, etc.

Breed, Thomas. "Tea Consumers, Tea Trade, and Colonial Cultivation | University of Minnesota Libraries." Tea Consumers, Tea Trade, and Colonial Cultivation | University of Minnesota Libraries. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <https://www.lib.umn.edu/bell/tradeproducts/tea>.

"English Language Arts Standards » History/Social Studies » Grade 11-12." English Language Arts Standards » History/Social Studies » Grade 11-12. Web. 13 June 2015. <http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RH/11-12/>.

Freeman, Michael, and Selena Ahmed. Tea Horse Road: China's Ancient Trade Road to Tibet. Bangkok: River, 2011. Print.

Hohenegger, Beatrice. Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea from East to West. New York: St. Martin's, 2006. Print.

Macfarlane, Alan, and Iris Macfarlane. The Empire of Tea: The Remarkable History of the Plant That Took over the World. New York: Overlook, 2004. Print. 

Mair, Victor H., and Erling Hoh. The True History of Tea. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2009. Print. 

Martin, Laura C. Tea: The Drink That Changed the World. Tokyo: Tuttle Pub., 2007. Print.

"Tea Trades Worldwide." Tea Trades Worldwide. Web. 25 June 2015. <http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/ce/Museum/Arts/7thingsabouttea/en/ch4_1_0.htm>.

Yun, Ling. Chinese Tea. New York: Better Link, 2010. Print.