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The Origins of the Humble Tea Leaf

The Origins of Tea

According to mythological fables, there are many tales of the origin of tea. The first one comes from over 4500 years ago. The Second Chinese Emperor Chen Sung(circa 2737-2697 BC) was sitting beneath a tree while his servant was boiling some water. A leaf from the tree above fell into the boiling water and Chen Sung tried the brew and liked it. The tree was a tea tree, of course.

Another fabled origin of tea comes from Bodhidharma, the traditional founder of the Zen school of Buddhism. The Japanese claim that he brought tea with him from India to China. The Indian legend proclaims that after 5 years of a 7 year sleepless meditation exercise on the Lord Buddha, BoddhiDharma started to feel sleepy. He immediately plucked a few leaves from a nearby bush and chewed them which thereby kept him awake. The bush was
a wild bush tree. Another tale along these lines has him plucking off his eyebrows when they started drooping and he threw them on the ground. It is reputed that 2 tea trees sprang up that had the power to keep him awake and alert.

Whatever the truth is, the raw leaves of the tea tree were probably used as food from the earliest times by the native populations of Southern China. A chinese text of 50 BC mentions tea being prepared by servants. Historians and scholars have tea being cultivated in Szechuan around the 3rd Century AD. There are many authentic references to tea in the Chinese dictionary circa 350 AD.

In the 8th Century the Chinese author Lu Yu wrote the first book on tea, the “Ch’a Ching”. This book summarised all the accumulated knowledge to date about tea growing and preparation. There were many illustrations of tea making utensils. This book succeeded in giving a major impetus to the drinking of tea by the upper classes. Some say that this book inspired the Buddhist priests to make the Japanese tea ceremony.

Early Processing of tea.

In the 4th Century the fresh green tea leaves were picked , squeezed into cakes and then roasted to a reddish color. These cakes were crumbled into the water and boiled, meanwhile adding onion, ginger, and orange peel. This tea was considered to be a excellent remedy for stomach problems, terrible eyesight and many other diseases, but must have been a very bitter brew indeed.

Around about the 8th Century the bricks of tea were now boiled with only a small bit of salt. In the Tang Dynasty, this tea recipe was the national drink of the ruling classes. Tea was beginning to be exported to Tibet, Turkey , India, and Russia because of its simple transportability.

The first mention of tea outside China and Japan was by the Arabs in 850 AD. Some say that they introduced it into Europe throught the port of Venice. The Portuguese paved the way for the entry of tea into Europe also because of their exploration of the sea passages to China as early as the 16th Century. Jesuit priests coming back from the East brought back their tea drinking habits back to Portugal. The Dutch merchants got in on the act as well. In 1610, regular shipments of tea to ports in France and Holland were started. In the late 17th Century, the English East India Company entered the trade.

Beginnings of the names for tea.

In the 4th Century in China, the Chinese word t’u was often used to describe shrubs besides tea. The modern term for tea comes from early chinese dialect words such as Tchai, Cha and Tay. These words were used to pertain to both the drink and the leaf. Tea is known as Cha or Chai in India to this day. In japan, the word Cha is used to describe both tea and a hot broth.

Early Benefits of Tea.

From the earliest times tea was recognised and loved because it is a healthy refreshing beverage. Made from the dried leaves of the camellia sinensis plant, tea is said to have antioxidant properties, can fight the flu virus, and boosts the immune system.

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Benefits of tea and the spiritual and health factors that add to our enjoyment of the refreshing taste.

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