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Tea history:
a journey through space and time

The tea history is filled with exciting myths as well as many documented facts. An ancient myth says that Shen Nung was sent from heaven to rule the Earth in 3000 B.C. He was known as the Divine Cultivator.

Was tea discovered by accident?

It was said that Shen Nung was the first to discover the power of the Earth and existence of tea. Shen Nung loved plants and flowers. It is believed that he had the most complete garden in the whole country.

Every afternoon, emperor Shen Nung would sit in his garden and enjoy his drink. One day, while his water was boiling on the table, a wind was blowing through the garden.

The leaves were flying everywhere. However, there was one tiny green leaf flew right into the emperor's boiling water. The leaves made the water turn green.

Curious to what kind of taste it would give, Shen Nung took a sip. The sweetness and bitterness of the green drink refreshed him.

He learned more about this newly discovered drink. Shen Nung noticed 2 effects from drinking tea were that "it quenches the thrist AND it lessens the desire for sleep".

Tea history - Another myth from Japan...

Who is Daruma and why is he important?

Legend says that there was an Indian monk named Bodhidharma, sometimes known as Daruma. This monk later founded the Zen school of Buddism. In about 520 A.D, Daruma took a trip from India to China.

By the time Daruma reached Canton, he was offered a place to stay. In his way as a Buddist, mediation was a very important part of Daruma's way of life. During his stay in the temple, Daruma meditated for seven years.

However, in a weak moment, Daruma fell asleep. When he woke up, Daruma was very angry and disappointed that he cut off his eye lids and threw them on the grass.

From the place where his eye lids lied, a small plant with tiny green leaves grew. When people put the leaves into hot water, the drink would help them stay awake for a long time.

Daruma was said to die in 530 A.D. His death was fascinating as his life. After he died, the monks of Zen Buddism spread the legend that Daruma didn't die. He was seen walking on the river, trying to get home to India.

Other legends in tea history...

Did tea mean more than just a drink to Chinese?

In China, tea became more than just a drink. It is viewed as a symbol of spirituality. Tea and the art of enjoying tea are important parts of major religions such as Buddism and Taoism. In Taoism, tea is called a liquid jade and is viewed as a symbol of mortality.

In Buddism, it was believed that monkeys were trained to pick tea leaves from the moutains' cliffs. Only those leaves are rare and are high-quality.

In these religions, tea can fullfill an ordinary life while still retaining its simplicity and essence. Tea gradually became an adjective to describe the emotional and spiritual state of a person.

Insensitivity and indifference reflect that a person doesn't have any tea. While extreme sensitivity and emotions indicate that person has too much tea.

Tea history entered new phase of scholarship...

What are the controversies between myths and facts?

When writing was invented, more documented facts about tea were available. In China, Ch'a means tea.

This word wasn't officially used by tea enthusiatists until 7th century. Although there was many documents about tea, some of them seem to contradict one another.

The reason for this is that each new ruler or emperor kept changing the historical documents so the people would support his regime and government.

History is made of events that happened in the past regardless of whether they were good or bad. But it seems as if in a war, the winners always created their own version of history to gain support from later generations. Looking at it this way, historical facts are actually myths and legends in disguise.

But some of the historical documents do agree with one another. From those, we can learn alot about the story of tea.

How did people in other culture drink tea?

There were many documents stating the diversity of ways that different people drink tea. The Koreans was said to eat chicken eggs while drinking tea. On the other hand, the Burmese would place lots of tea leaves into hollow bamboos and buried under the ground for a few months. It was said these buried tea leaves would make delicious foods when combining with other dishes.

The earliest record on tea growing was written in about 350 A.D. Tea was listed in one of the earliest dictionaries as a medicinal and refreshing drink. Not only tea played an important part as a national drink, it was sometimes viewed as currency. In history, people could exchange bricks of tea for other foods and commodities. Thus, from this, you see how tea began to earn its place as the national drink in many Asians countries.

Tea history in other Asian countries...

How did tea was first exported?

Once China began to export tea, tea gradually reached East and Middle Asian countries such as India and Sri Lanka. Tea often was traded along with spices such as herbs, sugar, and salt through spice-trading routes.

By 18th century, people in Sri Lanka and Iran started to enjoy this wonderful drink. Overtime, they grew their own tea plants and also export their products.

Through many trading routes, this natural drink is introduced to Russian. Gradually, this wonderful drink was so popular. The government began to import tea in large quantities.

Initially, Russia imported green tea from China. Now, Russians mainly imported tea from India and Sri Lanka.

How did tea go from China to Russia?

In the tea history, Tea was transported from China to Russia via the famous trading route called the Caravan trade routes. Although Russians have known tea since 1567, tea didn't reach Russia until 1618.

When the supply of tea increased, the price of tea went down. Common Russians were able to enjoy tea - what they called samovar. Samova is the combination of heating water in a pipe while heating the tea pot.

Did tea ever travel to Africa?

In the tea history, the British brought tea to Kenya and South Africa after the World War II. However, Africa has its own "tea plant". It's called Rooisbos (sometimes known as Red diamond or Red bush).

This is not exactly tea, but infused like tea. It's often known more as herbal tea. Rooisbos leaves is harvested in the summer. Real tea leaves are harvested in the Spring.

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