A Brief History of Tea: Part One

 

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF TEA

According to legend, the origin and history of tea dates back to some 5,000 years ago, when Emperor Shen Nung who was travelling around the Chinese countryside had asked for his water to be boiled as it was foul and unfit for drinking. A breeze caused a leaf to separate from the branch of a plant, which then fell into his cup of hot water. The curious emperor let the leaf steep, then sipped the brew. Tea, brewed from the Camellia Sinensis plant came into being.

In another legend of 6th century Indian origin, Prince Dharma decided to leave for China to spread the word of Buddha. To dignify his mission, he vowed to meditate for nine years. By the end of the third year, he almost succumbed to sleep. To prevent that from happening, he decided to cut off his eyelids; when they fell to the ground, a tea bush sprouted from the earth. The Japanese version has Bodhidharma visiting China and chewing leaves from a bush in order to stay awake during a meditation session.

Legends aside, historians have traced the purposeful cultivation of tea to Szechuan, China, around the year 350 AD. By the second half of the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 AD), tea took its place side by side with painting, calligraphy, poetry and music composition, and other scholarly pastimes. It was during this time that the first tea-specific manuscript, The Classic of Tea (Cha Jing), commissioned by tea merchants and written by the poet Lu Yu (780 AD) was published. During this period, tea had become such an important cash crop that the government imposed the first known tea tax.

Tea made its way to Japan late in the sixth century, along with Buddhism. A Japanese monk by the name of Saicho (767 to 822 AD) brought a few tea shrubs from China and planted them at the base of the sacred Mt. Hiei.

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