Story of Tea

“The cup that cheers“ - William Cowper

The history of tea, is one that is complex and multifarious. It spreads across several cultures and spans over a thousand years.

The most likely origin of tea is in South West China during the Shang Dynasty, where it was used as a medicinal drink. An early credible record of tea drinking found in a medical text written by Hua Tuo dates back as far as the 3rd century AD.

“Camellia sinensis originated in southeast Asia, specifically around the intersection of latitude 29° N and longitude 98°E, the point of confluence of the lands of northeast India, north Burma, southwest China and Tibet. The plant was introduced to more that 52 countries, from this ‘center of origin’.”

There are several myths as to the origin of tea as well. In a popular Chinese legend, the legendary Emperor of China and inventor of agricultural and Chinese medicine, ‘Shennong’ was drinking a bowl of just boiled water, sometime around 2737 BC. A few leaves from a nearby tree flew into his water, and changed its color. The emperor took a sip of this water and was surprised by the flavor it had created and its restorative properties. A similar legend is that of the God of agriculture who would chew the leaves, stems, and roots of various plants, in order to discover new medicinal herbs. In the event he consumed a plant that was poisonous, he would chew tea leaves to counteract the poison.

Whether or not these myths and legends have any factual basis, one thing is for certain. Tea has played a prodigious role in Asian culture for centuries as a staple beverage, a curative, a status symbol and an all round feel good drink. As such, it is not surprising that the theories of its origin are often steeped in religion or royalty.