What is tea?
Surpassed only by water, Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world. I’m sure that most of us think we know what tea really is, but surprisingly enough most of us don't know that all teas be it black, green, oolong, white, or Pu'erh all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. This sub-tropical is native to Asia but is now grown around the world. However growing best at high altitudes and in sub-tropical climates. In other words, "tea" is anything derived from the Camellia sinensis plant, anything else we sometimes call "tea", is actually a herbal tea or tisane. We'll get into more details regarding this later.
Origins of tea
The origin of tea is an infusion that blends both fact and fiction. A story that began in China, where according to legend, in 2737 BC. The Chinese emperor at that time, Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water when a few leaves stirred by the wind fell into the pot. The renowned herbalist, Shen Nung, decided to try this infusion that his servant had accidentally created, giving the world its first taste of tea.
There is no way of knowing how much of this legend is true but we are certain that tea drinking was established in China many centuries before it had even been heard of in the west. Tea has been found in tombs dating as far back as 206 BC during the reign of the Han dynasty. It is believed that under the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD), that tea became popular as a Chinese tradition. It became such a favourite that during the late eighth century, the first book entirely about tea, the Ch'a Ching, or Tea Classic was written by Lu Yu.
In his writing, Lu Yu, described the types of tea, its uses, as well as the preparation and benefits of drinking it. Throughout writing, he instilled a spiritual grace that reflected Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist religious beliefs of that time. Centred on these beliefs, the Japanese traditional tea ceremony came into being. Lu Yu may also be credited for Mandarin’s current word for tea, ‘茶 cha’ which came into recorded existence in 760 C.E. Before that in the early years of tea in China, the leaves were unprocessed, had a bitter taste and was eaten with rice resulting in the name ‘荼 tu’ meaning ‘bitter vegetable’. Only evolving to a beverage between 202 BC and 220 AD. It is said that he mistakenly omitted a stroke from the character ‘荼 tu’, resulting in a much different word: ‘茶 cha’, when he wrote the Cha Jing.