History of tea spans millennia and crosses over to fables and legends. Nowadays, you can buy hundreds of tea varieties for a myriad of ailments. Tea is supported by health science around the world. However, in ancient times, tea was a philosophical and even spiritual creation, not just a beverage. Wise men lived their own history, practiced their own religion, and experienced their spiritual growth through the drinking of tea.
Therefore, learning about the history of tea is more significant than the history of most products. Unlike some traditional drinks, tea begins with the legend of an emperor in China, almost 5000 years ago.
The Early History of Tea
Around 2700 BCE, Emperor Shen Nong discovered tea purely by accident, according to the legend. The well-known leader and wiseman was boiling water in his garden when a loose leaf from a tree fell in and flavored the water. He loved it so much that he applied his scientific knowledge to the process and began uncovering the medicinal, mental, and spiritual benefits of tea.
That’s if you ask China. If you ask India, they say that a prince named Bodhi-Dharma discovered tea in 520 while preaching the principles of Buddhism in China. He promised to show his devotion by meditating for nine consecutive years, without sleeping. He failed and, as the legend goes, he tore off his eyelids to prove his guilt. A tea plant grew where the lids bled into the ground.
Even while valuing multiple cultural mythologies, we therefore generally accept the Chinese version of the story.
Tea Travels the Globe
From ancient China, tea made the rounds to Tibet and India. The Tang Dynasty in China popularized the drink for its medicinal benefits, leading to a tea tax and to treatises written on the subject. These documents include ancient tea preparations and practices and therefore remain significant comparisons to how we use tea in the modern-day.
Monks and poets spread tea East and West. It reached Japan in the 9th century where it remained dormant until Matcha was discovered, which was green tea made from a finely ground powder. Thus, Matcha was the innovation that led to Japan’s obsession with the drink in the 13th century.
In the Ming Dynasty, people began brewing tea as we do today. Tea merchants began rolling green tea and trading it to missionaries and explorers throughout Europe and Asia. This led to Marco Polo learning of the drink in his travels. However, it didn’t catch on in Europe until the 1600s.
At that time, Dutch merchants began trading it from East to West on the lucrative Silk Road trading route. This led it to England by 1657, where it quickly became the drink of choice for the court and the people. Their colonies naturally picked up the habit as the British East India Company became the dominant trading empire on the planet.
The Takeaway for Tea History
History of tea winds from ancient philosophy to modern rebellion. Even the American colonies expressed their anger with their empire by dumping tea in the harbor. Yet, through Tea Acts, taxes, new health food crazes, and more, tea remains a popular medicinal and recreational drink. In some places, such as China, it remains the national drink of choice.