Origin of Tea

  • In ancient China, Some time around 2737 BC, Emperor Shennong followed a decree requiring his subjects to boil water before drinking it. One day, while sipping a bowl of freshly boiled water, a few leaves accidentally fell into his cup, transforming its color and taste. To his pleasant surprise, the emperor discovered a delightful new flavor and the restorative properties of this unexpected infusion.

  • According to one version of the legend, the emperor himself conducted experiments on his own body to test the medicinal properties of various herbs, some of which were poisonous. It was through these trials that he discovered the healing benefits of tea as an antidote. Shennong's association with tea is also mentioned in Lu Yu's famous early work, The Classic of Tea. Another Chinese legend recounts that Shennong would chew on leaves, stems, and roots of different plants in order to identify medicinal herbs. If he consumed a poisonous plant by accident, he would chew tea leaves to counteract the poison. A Tang dynasty legend tells the story of Bodhidharma, the founder of Chan Buddhism, who unintentionally fell asleep after meditating in front of a wall for nine years. When he woke up, he was so displeased with his perceived weakness that he cut off his own eyelids and they took root in the ground, eventually growing into tea bushes. Another variation of this tale replaces Bodhidharma with Gautama Buddha.

  • The Chinese have consumed tea for centuries. Physical evidence found in 2016 from the mausoleum of Emperor Jing of Han in Xi'an suggests that tea was already being enjoyed by Han dynasty emperors as early as the 2nd century BC. The samples were identified as tea from the genus Camellia through mass spectrometry, and written records suggest that it may have been consumed even earlier. Tea was used as a medicinal beverage during the Han dynasty, although its use as a stimulant is unknown. China is believed to have the oldest records of tea consumption, possibly dating back to the 10th century BC. However, it's worth noting that the current Chinese word for tea only came into use in the 8th century AD, creating uncertainty about whether older references to tea referred to the same thing. The word 'tu' appeared in ancient texts such as Shijing, which indicated a type of 'bitter vegetable,' and it's possible that it referred to various plants including tea. According to the Chronicles of Huayang, the Ba people in Sichuan presented 'tu' to the Zhou king. After conquering the states of Ba and Shu, the Qin dynasty learned how to drink tea.

  • European interactions with tea can be traced back to the mid-16th century. The first mention of tea in European literature came from Giambattista Ramusio, a Venetian explorer, who referred to it as Chai Catai, or 'Tea of China,' in 1559. Tea made subsequent appearances in various European countries, with Jan Hugo van Linschooten, a Dutch navigator, being the first to document tea in English in 1598 in his Voyages and Travels.