The tea we all know and love finds its origins in Ancient China. Legend has it that in 2737 BC, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water, when some leaves from the tree blew into the water. The emperor decided to try the infusion that had accidently been created. The tree was a Camellia sinensis, and the resulting drink was what we now call tea. Many other stories have been told over the centuries about tea’s origin, but all origin stories praise tea’s ability to restore energy, aid in concentration and uplift the spirit. It was recognised from those early days in China as a tonic herb and was both eaten and drunk to aid digestion and used in ointments to alleviate skin troubles and rheumatism.
During the Han Dynasty (206-220AD) tea became increasingly popular. Evidence of this can be seen in the numerous antique lacquer tea trays and cups and early porcelain tea bowls that date back to this period. These items have been found all over China showing its widespread use.
Tea became firmly established as the national drink of China during the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD) in which a strict tea etiquette evolved and with it came a new professional class of Tea Masters.
The Chinese Teahouse became an integral part of the Chinese social life during the Song Dynasty (960-1279AD). It was used as a venue for people from all walks of life. Dealers, merchants, family and friends all used to gather within these teahouses to play games, discuss business, relax, listen to travelling storytellers, poets and actors that were there to entertain.
During the 8th Century, China’s first real tea specialist, Lu Yu wrote the Ch’a Ching, or ‘Classic of Tea’. This book, which described everything you would need to know about tea, became essential reading for tea farmers, tea merchants and the consuming Chinese public. Shortly after this tea was introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks that trained in China before returning home.
Written By: Sarah Hanney and Emma Drew