So long as there has been tea, there have been tea "events." Thousands of years ago, the Chinese monk Lu Yu gave form and structure to Chinese tea preparation and drinking. This was just the beginning of the formality of tea.
Japanese Tea Ceremonies
In Japan, tea was introduced around 800 AD. Buddhist Priest Yeisei brought the beverage to the country, and had seen the benefits of a tea ceremony on religious ceremonies and activities including meditation. Thanks to his influence, tea spread rapidly through monasteries and royalty. Soon, drinking tea was elevated to a true art form still used today.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is a formalized preparation and serving of tea. To perform the tea ceremony in Japan, one must have years of training to achieve the right level of grace, charm and manners. Over the years, the official hostesses of Japan, the geisha, became specialize in the tea ceremony. Tea houses opened as well to host the events.
As tea circumnavigated the globe, tea gardens opened in Europe. The Portuguese introduced tea to the Dutch, and through trade, the Dutch brought the tea to France, Holland and the Baltic countries. First a privilege only the wealthy could afford, tea eventually became a common drink in taverns served on garden tables. The tea garden was introduced.
Tea made its way to England in the 1650s. It wasn't long after that the Duchess of Bedford, much enamored with tea, introduced the country to a third meal. Prior to tea time, only breakfast and dinner had been served. The Duchess invited friends over in the afternoons for tea time and a walk. The concept caught on quickly and soon many of the noblewomen had adopted tea time.
Tea was served in a sterling tea service and poured in to fine porcelain from China. As tea became less expensive, tea time was adopted among all levels of society. Nobles enjoyed "low tea" which was tea served with delicacies while peasants and others enjoyed "high tea" which included a full meal along with tea. Tea gardens soon followed which were the first public area where mixing social classes was considered acceptable.
Tea Rooms and Tea Dances
During the Victorian era, tea was served in many of the finest establishments in both England and America. These tea rooms, often contained within fine hotels or other buildings, were frequented by ladies and their gentlemen as a means to visit acceptably during the afternoon.
By 1910, dancing had become the craze in America, and rather than simply serving tea in the afternoons, tea dances were held in tea rooms and other locations so that young people could meet, converse, enjoy tea and, of course, dance! Today, there are many fine tea rooms offering tea services although dances are not common. Tea time is still very much observed in both North America and the UK, although it is observed more universally in the UK. Tea parties and afternoon teas are still held for special occasions such as baby or wedding showers, birthday parties and other feminine gathering.