Nowadays, we call everything that can be steeped in water – flowers, herbs, roots and other leaves – tea.
But allow us to take you on a journey of the last five thousand years and let us show you the brief history of Tea (茶: Chá). The stories associated with its discovery for the first time up to the years it was traded, replanted in other countries, and imported to Europe are steeped in fortunate accidents.
The year was 2737 B.C., and a gust of wind caused a bunch of leaves from a wild tea tree to spiral down to a boiling kettle where then Chinese Emperor Shennong, a known herbalist and father of Chinese agriculture and medicine, was resting. After partaking of the tea liquor, the emperor experienced an immediate sense of refreshment and restored energy. When it was first introduced to the ancient people of China, it was as a curative relief for common illnesses and an antidote to poison.
For another two thousand years, tea was basically popular as a bitter medicinal herb. It was not until the Han dynasty, during the 1st Century A.D. that Tea became an elevated status symbol consumed by members of the royal family, intellectuals, poets, writers, and monks. It was during this time that Tea became a full time occupation when farmers started producing tribute teas (e.g. Long Jing or Dragon Well green tea being the most famous).
Tea reached its golden age status during the period of Tang Dynasty (AD 618-906) when Tea became as much a part of the ancient peoples' daily life not only as a tonic but for pleasure as well. In the 8th century, Lu Yu, considered as China's Tea Saint, published 'The Classic of Tea' ( 茶經; Chájīng), recognized as the first authoritative monograph on the subject- the origin of the Tea trees, how the tea plant was grown, the best time to harvest the leaves (or which part of the leaves should be harvested), who should harvest it, what type of water to brew, how much fire is ideal, and even the tea wares to use. The whole ceremony was shrouded in care, rigidity and meticulousness that at any point, if one tea implement was missing, it was better not to proceed with the tea ceremony at all.
It was also at this point in history when Buddhist monks, returning from their studies in China, brought Tea to Japan. The first tea farms were cultivated a century later right in the grounds of the monastery owned by the monks which then evolved into a complex, precise and even spiritual Tea ceremony known as the Cha-no-yu.
Needless to say, Tea has played some very significant roles in bridging the gap between the ancient world and our modern times, despite the seemingly vast gap. It is reassuring to note how, despite the changing of the world itself, some things remain the same because of its intrinsic excellent characteristics and capacity for inducing personal well being.