How tea came to be is an intriguing, myth-filled tale, spanning continents, and filled with political turns, twists, and economical consequences that make it a story that lies somewhere between a Bond movie and a Dalrymple novel.
The Pre-Colonial Era
Chinese Green Tea- In the 2nd century BC, while the Roman army was busy taking Carthage, and fighting the steel-muscled Spartans in Greece, tea was discovered in China. The earliest evidence of tea can be found in the Mausoleum of Emperor Jing of the Han dynasty, where ancient records show that green tea was used for its medicinal properties.
Tea drinking became a customary pass-time in Chinaonly around the 8th century. Under the Tang Dynasty, green tea leaves were steamed, dried and then brewed. As more and more people warmed to sipping green tea, the steaming process was honed and the flavour bettered.
Soon tea became so popular that the main revenue of the Canton region came from duties on salt and tea.
Peony and Needles- In 1105 AD, during the Song Dynasty era, white tea became the choice drink of Emperor Huizong. So inspired was he by tea that he wrote a book called the Treatise on Tea. It’s one of the best-written records of the Song dynasty's tea ceremonies, which primarily used a powdered form of white tea.
It was only in the late 1800’s that tea farmers from the Fujian mountains began to sell silver needle white pekoe tea and white peony tea in loose leaf form.
Japanese Green Tea- Zen and tea came from Buddhism in Japan.
Legend has it that a Bodidharma monk was so tired after 7 years of meditation, that he cut off his eyelids to stay awake, and threw them on the ground. A tea tree emerged, and its leaves re-energized the monk. In reality, it was in 1271 that a Buddhist monk brought and planted a Chinese tea shrub in Japan. The rest is history and a wee bit of geography. The misty cold Uji Mountains offered a perfect site for Matcha and Sencha tea.
Matcha tea is the powdered green tea associated with the celebrated Japanese tea ceremonies popular among emperors and kings. Sencha whole leaf tea, on the other hand, was the tea of the masses. Today, both Matcha and Sencha tea have found a global fan base, thanks totheir health benefits and rich history.
Oolong Tea- Its discovery was a happy accident.