We were specifically talking about the first mention of tea in Europe, and whether there was anything worth noting before the Dutch started bringing back by ship. Other than Marco Polo mentioning it in relation to its use being taxed (1285), one particular Venetian wrote about tea while describing his travels to China.
He was called Giambatista Ramusio, and he reported about tea in 1559 in Chai Catai (tea of China) which is part of his posthumously published Navigatione et Viaggi (Voyages and Travels), after he heard about it from a Persian caravan merchant Hajji Mahommed (Chaggi Memet). So that's the first time tea was officially referred to in Europe.
But while the Venetians were going the overland route, the Portuguese discovered the quickest way to China was around the Cape of Good Hope. Rather than get more specific about the general history, I'll include an entire paragraph about the Portuguese Jesuit priests and their relation to tea.
'The Portuguese traders and the Portuguese Jesuit priests, who like Jesuits of every nation busied themselves with the affairs of caffeine, wrote frequently and favorably to compatriots in Europe about tea. Strangely enough, there is no record of their sending tea shipments from the East for the enjoyment of their countrymen. In 1556, Father Gasper Da Cruz, a missionary, became the first to preach Catholicism in China; when he returned home in 1560, he wrote and mentioned the first mention of tea in Portuguese, "a drink called ch'a, which is somewhat bitter, red, and medicinall." Another Portuguese cleric, Father Alvaro Semedo, in 1633 wrote an early account of the tea plant and the preparation of the beverage in his book about China, Relatione della Grande Monarchia della Cina (1643). He mentions the custom, initiated at the Hann Pass by Yin Hsi, of offering tea to guests, and explains that when it is offered for the third time, it is time for the guest to move along.'
(source: The World of Caffeine pp. 61-63)
There are two things I like about this. Firstly, did Jesuits of every nation really busy themselves with caffeine? Isn't that a weird turn of phrase? I must admit it's the first time I've found myself daydreaming of being just such a Jesuit priest. Purely for caffeine reasons, I assure you.
And the other thing? Well, of course it's the three-cups-and-you're-out-of-here part. Isn't that curious? One of the above-mentioned tea people, I think it was Michael J Coffey, pointed out that this was a funny spin on Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea.
The first cup-you were a stranger. By the second you were a friend, and simultaneously while I serve you that third cup, you're both family and I'm going to give you The Bum's Rush. Here's your hat-what's your hurry?