Ancient History

THE ANCIENT HISTORY OF TEA

Tea, a quintessentially British drink, a regular feature of grocery lists across the world and an infinitely healthier alternative to coffee. While some might contest, tea is as egalitarian as it is popular.

With the most expensive strain being auctioned for up to $28,000 for 20g, tea is as much a feature of street sides in India as it is a native to lavish auctions. While tea was introduced just shy of four centuries to the rest of the world, for China history of tea goes further back in time.

The history of tea begins in China, where legend has it that the Chinese emperor Shen Nung accidentally discovered it. Folktales believe it to be the year 2737 BC, Emperor Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water, when some leaves from the tree blew into the water. Shen Nung who was an acclaimed herbalist, decided to try the concoction accidentally created by his servant. The tree was a Camellia sinensis, and the resulting drink is what is known today as tea.

As romantic as the story is, there is no possible way of approving the credibility of it. But, tea drinking certainly originated in China many centuries before its introduction to the rest of the world. Containers for tea have been found in tombs dating from the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) but it was under the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD) who established teas as national drink of China, that the popularity of the drink increased manifold. In fact it became such a favorite that the eighth century writer, Lu Yu wrote a book dedicated to tea, the Ch’a Ching which roughly translates as Tea Classic. It was shortly after this that tea was first introduced to Japan, by Japanese Buddhist monks who had travelled to China to study. Tea drinking has since become indispensable to Japanese culture, as seen in the development of Tea Ceremony, which is heavily influenced by the rituals described in the Ch’a Ching.

Whatever maybe the origins of tea, be it a dubious story of accidental discovery or simply an economically viable cash crop, tea will always be loved for its warmth and simplicity.

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