According to Chinese mythology, in 2737 BC Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was sitting under a tree while his servant boiled drinking water. A leaf from a wild tea tree dropped into the water and Shen Nung decided to try the brew. Finding the drink a pleasant and relaxing flavour, he ordered extensive planting of the crop.
Tea was introduced to Japan in 805 AD as a medicine by Zen Buddhist missionaries because of its meditation enhancing properties.
In 1484, the sacred Japanese Tea Ceremony was introduced.
In the 1500s, tea arrived in Portugal, as the Portuguese were the first to establish trade relations with China. It was then shipped to the Dutch who in turn sent it to France and the Baltic countries.
In the 1600s, a French social critic added milk to tea for the first time. The Dutch served tea in restaurants and introduced tea to America by exporting it to the Dutch colonists.
Ironically, the British who are known as a great nation of tea drinkers, were the last of the seafaring nations to be introduced to tea drinking.
Indian and Japanese legends both attribute tea’s discovery to Bodhidharma, the devout Buddhist priest who founded Zen Buddhism. The Indian legend tells how in the fifth year of a seven-year sleepless contemplation of Buddha he began to feel drowsy. He immediately plucked a few leaves from a nearby bush and chewed them which dispelled his tiredness. The bush was a wild tea tree.
From the earliest times tea was renowned for its properties as a healthy, refreshing drink. By the third century AD many stories were being told and some written about tea and the benefits of tea drinking, but it was not until the Tang Dynasty (618 AD - 906 AD) that tea became China's national drink and the word ch'a was used to describe tea. The modern term "tea" derives from early Chinese dialect words - such as Tchai, Cha and Tay - used both to describe the beverage and the leaf.
As far back as 780 AD, tea was being advertised. Chinese tea merchants, eager to boost their sales, enlisted a writer called Lu Yu to write a book about tea. Entitled Ch'a Ching it comprises three volumes and covers tea from its growth through to its making and drinking, as well as covering a historical summary and famous early tea plantations. There are many illustrations of tea making utensils and some say that the book inspired the Buddhist priests to create the Japanese tea ceremony.
A member of the Camellia family, tea (Camellia sinensis, also known as Chinese Camellia) is an evergreen, tropical plant which has green, shiny leaves with jagged edges. Only the top two leaves and the unopened leaf bud of the tea plant are used to make good quality black tea because they have the tender, young part with the best flavour. A "flush" in tea terminology is when the young shoots reappear after one harvest and are ready for harvest again.
Tea bushes begin to return a viable crop after eight years and can keep producing for more than 100 years. Botanists believe the hardy evergreen was originally native to the mountainous borders of China, India and Burma.