A friend was going over tea consumption stats by country and noted that Chile is high on the list, so I asked an online contact who lives there about it.
Patricio Hurtado Escobar owns a physical shop and online outlet based out of Santiago, Chile, La Teteria. To keep this short I’ll skip adding more of his bio, and most framing and transition content, going straight to his input (offered as discussion, not really for blog publication):
“It’s a long history that began with the Gold rush in California.
“By these days, English merchants come to Chile to feed the ships that came from the east ports of Boston and New York that need to cross to the Pacific ocean through the Strait of Magellan.
“They settled in Punta arenas; Valparaiso, Coquimbo, and other cities along the long Chilean shore.
“These merchants introduce the costume of tea here and some taxes policies on yerba Mate do the rest.
“Chileans replaced mate with tea, early in the beginning of twentieth century.
“I suspect, according to some historical dates and British plantations development in India and Sri Lanka, that the first teas were hong chas from Wuyishan (in Fujian).
“This is an hypothesis based on the strong predjudice[sic] here that only the dark, biggest and large leaves are the best tea.
“Dianhong was developed later in the second world war.
“By the beginning of the 20 century, the Sri Lanka’s teas were the most sought after teas here, and we are one of the most important clients for Ceylon teas.
“However, we did not produce tea up to 2015.”
Patricio mentioned a longer, more developed, and largely overlapping account of the tea history and present-day status in Chile in the form of a Tea Journey article, from November of 2020. Most of that content is in that article, just not all of it; for example the idea that Wuyishan black tea was a likely first imported type. That production date is contradicted by mention of limited-range tea production first planted in 2002, but that article cites that finished tea wasn’t sold locally from that output, so differing timeframes could be caused by a few factors.
That Tea Journey article covers just as much on present-day consumption—where this started—as the history, so if that’s of interest it’s a good reference for that. If tea history is of interest, considering what was produced and demanded back in the 19th century, the looking up old texts from that time period on the Internet Archive can work, like this one, “Tea: Its History and Mystery,” published in 1892. To discuss tea history, production, and local preferences / tea culture with people online a Facebook group that I moderate, International Tea Talk, is perfect for that. Searching old posts and discussion works well, since that has been going on there for years.
Villarrica area tea bushes (photo provided for use by Patricio Hurtado Escobar)