China: The Beginning of Tea
Some accounts suggest tea had its beginnings in China around 5000 BC. Specifically, there are two stories from that period, each proposing a different origin for the hot beverage.
The first asserts that Chinese Emperor Shen Nung discovered tea when a tea leaf accidentally fell into the bowl of hot water he was drinking.
The second states that Shien Non Shei, having accidentally tasted the leaves of the Camellia sinesis plant, brewed it in hot water to see if it had any medicinal value.
By the middle ages, tea had become a staple in Chinese Taoists’ immortality elixirs and Buddhists’ meditation practices (to enhance their ability to stay awake). It was during the Chinese T’ang dynasty (around 700 AD) that tea had its civilized beginnings and infiltration into society. T’ang poet, Lu Wu penned the first and still definitive Ch’a Ching, which is regarded in China as the ‘Holy Scripture of Tea’.
In the early days (1000-1100 AD), tea leaves were boiled with water and other ingredients such as salt and ginger. In later years the leaves were ground to a powder and then whipped with hot water.
Over the centuries, China has developed an extraordinary tea culture, comparable in its sophistication with the wine culture of the West. Today, all across North America, loose leaf tea (the only tea in China) is revered by tea enthusiasts, with more and more tea shops opening their doors daily.
Loose Leaf Tea Around The World:
China: During the early days of tea drinking in China, leaves were boiled with sweets and spices. In the artful Song dynasty (1100 AD) tea leaves were ground and whipped with water. It wasn’t until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), however, that it became common practice to steep loose tea leaves in hot water in a teapot, and then to pour the infused liquid into bowls to drink.
Japan: Around 100AD tea was introduced to Japan by Yei-sai-zenji, a student of the southern Zen school. It was at that time that the Japanese tea ritual was born – a harmonious ritual of host and guest expressing reverence for the ‘everyday’ or mundane.
Europe: Marco Polo first documented tea in Europe in the mid-11th century. The Dutch East India Company ships brought the first teas to Britain in 1650. Interestingly, the coffee houses of London reverted to teahouses in the early half of the 18th century.
Canada: The Hudson Bay Company brought the first tea to Canada in 1716.
America: Tea has a place in American political history with the Boston Tea Party of 1773 (the dumping of a cargo of tea into the Boston harbour as a protest against the British Crown’s attempt to levy a tax on tea imported to America, igniting the revolution that led to American independence).