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The Legends of the Origin of Tea

The most widely accepted tea origin story comes from ancient China, 5,000 years ago. Legend has it that one fateful day, as Emperor Shen Nong, a skilled ruler and scientist with a keen interest in agriculture and herbal medicine, was wandering the hills when he needed to stop for a break.

As he sat beneath a Camellia Sinensis tree (that very tree responsible for every type of tea), boiling water to drink, a few leaves were swayed by the wind and landed into his pot of boiling water. Shen Nong, ever the curious soul, decided to drink this accidental brew.

He loved it.

From there, tea's popularity grew steadily in China. It was initially consumed for its medicinal qualities, believed to aid in digestion and to have rejuvenating effects. Over centuries, its consumption evolved from a medicinal concoction to a daily beverage enjoyed by all social classes.

emperor shen nong and the origin of tea

Another origin story involves Bodhidharma, an Indian monk who lived during the 5th or 6th century and is credited with bringing Zen Buddhism to China. Legend has it that Bodhidharma spent nine years in meditation, sitting facing a wall in a cave.

One day, however, he was so angry that he kept falling asleep during meditation that he ripped off his eyelids and threw them to the ground, where they grew into tea plants. He consumed the leaves and was rejuvenated, adapting tea to his usual spiritual practice.

Another origin story of tea features Princess Xi Shi - although we delve into her story more in this post.

eisa tea co and the origin of tea

From these humble origins, tea culture grew, flourishing during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when legend Lu Yu produced the first book on tea, "The Classic of Tea".

In Japan, tea became the centrepiece of the Japanese tea ceremony, a ritualistic practice focusing on mindfulness and aesthetics. The spread to the West was slower but no less impactful as Portuguese and Dutch traders in the 16th and 17th centuries brought tea to Europe.

However, tea's popularity also had darker consequences. The British demand for Chinese tea led to a trade imbalance, which the British East India Company addressed by trading opium for tea, sparking the Opium Wars in the 19th century. Additionally, to break the Chinese monopoly on tea, the British began cultivating tea in India, leading to the rise of Assam and Darjeeling teas.

And today, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water, with a rich variety that reflects its global journey. It continues to influence cultures around the world, it brings people together, and frankly, it tastes magnificent.


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