The History & Origin of Tea

Since tea was first discovered in China, it has become the most popular beverage in the world as well as one of the healthiest.

The history of tea spans thousands of years. Tea likely originated in China during the Shang Dynasty (1500 BC–1046 BC) as a medicinal drink. The earliest credible record of tea drinking dates to the 3rd century AD, in a medical text written by Hua T'o. Tea was first introduced to Portuguese priests and merchants in China during the 16th century. Drinking tea became popular in Britain during the 17th century. The British introduced tea production, as well as consumption to India, in order to compete with the Chinese monopoly on tea.

In one popular Chinese legend, Shennong, the legendary Emperor of China and inventor of agriculture and Chinese medicine was drinking a bowl of just boiled water sometime around 2737 BC when a few leaves were blown from a nearby tree into his water, changing the colour. The emperor took a sip of the brew and was pleasantly surprised by its flavour and restorative properties. A variant of the legend tells that the emperor tested the medical properties of various herbs on himself, some of them poisonous, and found tea to work as an antidote. Shennong is also mentioned in Lu Yu's famous early work on the subject, Cha Jing. A similar Chinese legend goes that the god of agriculture would chew the leaves, stems, and roots of various plants to discover medicinal herbs. If he consumed a poisonous plant, he would chew tea leaves to counteract the poison.

The Japanese emperor Shomu gave us the first mention of tea in Japan when he served it to guests. Within one hundred years, tea was being grown in Japan and processed. With the birth of the Japanese Tea Ceremony and Japanese types of tea like matcha, tea became as Japanese as it was Chinese.

Tea has played a significant role in Asian culture for centuries as a staple beverage, a curative, and a status symbol. It is not surprising, therefore, that theories of its origin are often religious or royal in nature.

Want to know more about the history of tea? try Google and Wikipedia for more information.

Rick Williams
Rick Williams


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