Who invented tea?

“Who invented tea” is one of the most frequent questions regarding tea when you search for the topic in Google. As you may know, the history of tea is millenial and people have always wondered questions such as “When was tea invented” or “How old is tea” or even “Where does tea come from”. If you have ever had one of these questions, take a sip and dive in this short summary of the history of tea and don’t forget to leave a comment below telling me your opinion about it.;)

Throught the centuries, the habit of drinking tea has been related to several cultures and several legends have been generated around it. What all of them have in common is that tea originates in the East, where it has been known for ages.

Another thing that also differs from place to place is its own name “tea”. For example, in the Fujian province of China, the word tea is pronnounced “tay”, which is where the Dutch, who took tea to Europe for the first time, learned it, and that is why it has become “Tea” in Ireland and England, “Tee” in Germany, “Thé” in France and “Té” in Spanish.

In turn, the Portuguese were already trading tea in Macao, where the local word for tea is “Cha”, and that is why in Portuguese the word for tea is “Chá”.

The discovery of the tea is a very curious history and happened about 5000 years ago: according to legend, the Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung in 2737 B.C. stopped with his army to rest under a tree. The troop began boiling water to preprare their meal and during this process a leaf from a tea bush nearby flew into the cooking water. The mixture was given to the Emperor who felt relaxed and very appreciated it. Tea was born.

It is impossible to know whether there is any truth in this story. But tea drinking certainly became established in China many centuries before it had even been heard of in the west. Containers for tea have been found in tombs dating from the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), inspired by wine ceramic pots, but it was under the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD), that tea became the national drink of China.

It was so popular, that by this time, the first ever book about tea was written in China during the Tang dynasty (c. VIII A.C.) by Lu Yu, known as a patron of the tea, and was called Cha Ching (The Classic of Tea) inspired by the Zen philosophy. Lu Wu was an orphan and had been adopted by a Buddhist monk. Soon he was offered by the Governor studies and access to the city library. He grew up surrounded by poets, writers and religious men.

One very famous quote of Lu Wu is that “Tea symbolizes the harmony and mysterious union of the Universe”.

But they were the Buddhist monks who widely spread its fame and first introduced to Japan, due to their frequent trips to China to study. They used it to help concentrate during meditations sessions and avoid sleepness. As a consequence, tea drinking became a vital part of Japanese culture as well, as seen in the development of the Tea Ceremony culture. The Tea Routes also contributed to the tea divulgation, but this is a topic for the next post.

Sources: Book “Sommelier del Té” from Victoria Bisogno and Website UK Tea Association.

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