Tea Stories: The Beginning

The legends of how tea began are something I hold close to my heart as they are the inspiration for my blog and now companies name. Therefore, I wanted to share them with you all, just to add to your repertoire of knowledge and your own enjoyment.

Legend has it that tea was discovered roughly 5,000 years ago by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, who was the second of the legendary three emperors referred to as the ‘Three Sovereigns’ or ‘Three Emperors’, when a single leaf blew into the emperor’s pot of boiling water. He found that not only did the leaf improve the taste of the water, but it seemed to have a stimulative effect on the body. The rest, as they say, is history.

Shen Nung supposedly was the father of Chinese Herbal Medicine, who is said to have classified over 365 species of herbs or medicinal plants which was later the basis of herbologica studies. Also, according to some versions of the myths about Shen Nung, he eventually died as a result  of his researches into the properties of plants by experimenting upon his own body, after, in one of his tests, he ate the yellow flower of a weed that caused his intestines to rupture before he had time to swallow his antidotal tea.

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The second tea story comes as the Indian answer to the Ancient Chinese legend of Shen Nung’s discovery of tea. According to this Indian tale, tea was a divine creation of the Buddha himself. During a pilgrimage to China, the Buddha was said to have taken a vow to meditate without rest for nine years. But, after some time, he dozed off. Upon awakening, he was said to have torn off his eyelids and thrown them to the ground out of frustration. Supposedly, the eyelids took root and germinated into plants that sprouted leaves with an eyelid shape. He then chewed the leaves of this plant, and his fatigue vanished. The plant, of course, was said to be the first tea plant, which he carried with him to China. However, it is important to note that there is no evidence that the Buddha ever went to China, not to mention that fact that he’d have bigger problems to worry about (besides staying awake) if he didn’t have eyelids.

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The final story deals not with the origin of a certain tea, but rather with the word “tea” itself. In China, tea is most commonly known as “cha”. The reason we call it by another name reflects an interesting mix of history and geography. When tea first reached European markets in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, it came from the trading port of Amoy (present-day Xiamen) in Fujian province of China. In the local Fukienese dialect tea is called “tey” rather than the more common “cha”, so in Western Europe, and later the United States, it was the word “tea” that stuck, while other countries, such as India, Russia, and Turkey, were introduced to tea as “cha” by traders traveling over-land along the Silk Road.

Don’t forget to have some tea on me.

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