Tea is among the popular drinks people from all parts of the world enjoy each day. Statistics show that the Americans drink around 80 billion cups of tea each year while the Canadians consume around 10 billion cups each year. The love for tea did not start a few decades ago. People have been consuming it since the Chinese discovered it nearly 5,000 years ago. A Chinese Emperor Shen-Nun, known to be a divine healer, discovered the tea when he blew it accidentally into boiling water. That was in 2737 BC. However, tea took another 100 years to reach the other parts of the world. Dutch traders were the first to introduce it to the western countries in the early 1600s, where it became one of the staples of trade.
As we have stated, the story of tea is long and started around 5,000 years ago in China. The Chinese Legend state that emperor Shen-Nung discovered tea accidentally around 3,000 BC. It starts by stating that the emperor and his entourage camped in the shade of a huge tree, made a fire and prepared a large pot with boiling water. The heat from the huge fire, made some leaves to dry out and a suddenly a fierce wind blew some of them into the large pot with hot water. The leaves introduced a golden colour in the water and released a delicious scent. When the emperor tried to drink the water, the delicious taste and scent delighted him. He immediately recognized the invigorating and refreshing effect and shouted “T’sa”, which means godlike. The Chinese adopted “cha” as the name for tea and they use it including today.
The Indians have their legend too. However, their legend of tea starts around 500AD when Fakir Dharma took a vow not to sleep for the 7 years that followed. After 5 years of remaining awake, it appeared that he could not fight the desire to sleep anymore. That made him feel desperate but he was not ready to break his vow. Possibly, to fight the stress, he grasped several branches of tea from the trees surrounding his camping area. After chewing them, Dharma experienced an invigorating and refreshing effect immediately, the tiredness evaporated and keeping his vow was now easy.
The Japanese legend of tea discovery is different from that of the Indians and the Chinese. A repentant pledged to meditate for 7 years. The penitent vowed not to sleep within those 7 years but unfortunately, he falls asleep on the first night. The next morning, he became angry for the failure, took a knife and chopped off his eyelids. When the eyelids touched the soil, they developed roots and grew into huge bushes. When the repentant saw the wonder, he used the leaves to prepare himself a drink. People from other places went to witness the wonderful trees and most of them did as the penitent did – they used the leaves to prepare a drink for themselves. News about the invigorating and refreshing drink from the leaves spread to many parts. The unique scent and delicious taste were the main reason people saw the drink as divine. Today, the Japanese language is still using the same characters for eyelids and tea.
Legends of tea have circulated to most parts of the world, but historians have found it hard to pinpoint the origin of tea. People believe that tea originated from Yunnan province, China, but more evidence has shown the possibility of native tea bushes in Northern India and Tibet too. Since the discovery, tea has been an important part of life in most Asian societies. The unearthed tombs of Han Dynasty, which ruled between 206 BCE to 220AD, had containers people used to drink tea.
Tea started gaining popularity during the reign of Tang Dynasty between 600 and 900 AD. People established the idea of tea ceremonies during that time something that made tea to become an important aspect in the Chinese culture and influenced the Tang rulers to declare tea China’s national drink. The Chinese attribute much of the cultural integration to Lu Yu, a Buddhist monk of the time.
The monk started researching the uses of tea and its health benefits and came up with good tea brewing and consuming techniques. Because of his role in the Buddhist religion, it was easy for him to ingrate tea into many spiritual ceremonies. People started using it to promote Buddhism ideals such as spirituality, harmony and contemplation. Tea was memorialized in art, poetry, politics and religion during the Sung Dynasty, which followed the Tang Dynasty.
Saicho, a Japanese monk, discovered tea when studying in China in the 9th century. Saicho, along with other monks, took seeds to Japan for cultivation and in the 13th century, many tea plantations were emerging in Japan. Unlike the Chinese who brewed their tea in hot water or chewed the leaves, the Japanese grounded the tea into a fine powder and added it to boiling water using a chawan bowl and bamboo whisk. The name used today for the tea powder is matcha green tea.
Tea entered the western countries in the 9th century but it did not get popularity until the 17th century when global trade took off. Dutch East India Company delivered the first shipments of tea in 1610 from China after a Portuguese missionary who worked in China had introduced it in Europe. During that time, tea entered Russia through the Silk Road. All that time, people were seeing tea as a luxurious item and its popularity in Paris and London was growing. It only took tea 50 years to overtake coffee as the main drink in British coffee houses.
All forms of tea originated from one evergreen shrub – the Camellia Sinensis. The tea space offers over 3,000 varieties of tea bushes, which grow in mountainous areas on all parts of the world. The tea producers decide on the type of tea, such as green, black, white or oolong tea, to produce during the processing. Possibly, you knew nothing about the legends.