The History of Tea

According to Chinese mythology, in 2737 BC the Chinese Emperor, Shen Nung, scholar and herbalist, was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water. A leaf from the tree dropped into the water and Shen Nung decided to try the brew. The tree was a wild tea tree.

Conversely the Indian and Japanese legends both attribute the discovery of tea to Bodhidharma the devout Buddhist priest who founded Zen Buddhism. The Indian legend tells how in the fifth year of a seven year sleepless contemplation of Buddha he began to feel drowsy. He immediately plucked a few leaves from a nearby bush and chewed them which dispelled his tiredness. The bush was a wild tea tree.

From the earliest times tea was renowned for its properties as a healthy, refreshing drink. By the third century AD many stories were being told and some written about tea and the benefits of tea drinking, but it was not until the Tang Dynasty (618 AD - 906 AD) that tea became China's national drink and the word ch'a was used to describe tea.

The first book on tea "Ch'a Ching", circa 780 AD, was written by the Chinese author Lu Yu. It comprises three volumes and covers tea from its growth through to its making and drinking, as well as covering a historical summary and famous early tea plantation. There are many illustrations of tea making utensils and some say that the book inspired the Buddhist priests to create the Japanese tea ceremony. The spread of cultivation throughout China and Japan is largely accredited to the movement of Buddhist priests throughout the region.

The modern term "tea" derives from early Chinese dialect words - such as Tchai, Cha and Tay - used both to describe the beverage and the leaf. Known as Camellia Sinensis to Western botanists, tea is an evergreen plant of the Camellia family.