According to legend, Emperor Shennong was the first to discover tea, in 2737 BC. As the story goes, the emperor drank only water that had been boiled to ensure it was clean. During a trip to a distant region, he and his army stopped to rest. A servant began boiling some water for the emperor when a dead leaf from a tea plant fell into the water. The water turned a brownish color, but the servant didn’t notice and served it to the emperor anyway.
The emperor, upon drinking the concoction, found it very refreshing, and tea was born.
In India, a saint who wouldn’t sleep
Another legend attributes the discovery of tea to a saint in India who prayed non-stop for many years.
One day the saint fell asleep. He was so remorseful that he cut off his eyelids and tossed them aside.
He continued to pray for several more years without falling asleep. Then he became sleepy again.
But when he chewed the leaves of a nearby shrub he felt a renewed energy.
Word got around and people everywhere began chewing the leaves of the shrub. Before long they were infusing the leaves to make tea.
Tea makes its way around the world
The cultivation of tea was later introduced to Japan, around the 6th century.
Europeans only found out about tea in the 1600s, when Dutch traders returned from the Far East with tea leaves from China.
Tea was introduced to Britain around 1650, a few years after coffee.
It rapidly became a popular beverage, and the English were soon consuming the new drink at a rate of 300-400 cups per person each year (equivalent to about two pounds of tea leaves).
Soon, the government discovered that it was losing revenue, as the more people drank tea, the less they bought wine and spirits, which were subject to taxes.
The solution was to create a tax on tea.
Tea troubles lead to revolution
By 1772, this tax was causing problems in Britain’s colonies.
The Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773, was a mass protest by colonists in Boston, Massachusetts against the British government after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain.
A group of protesters boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor.
This was a key event in the process that led to the American Revolution.
The modern tea industry began in British India in the mid-1800s.
Today, tea is a “national” beverage in England, China, Japan and Russia. It’s the most popular drink worldwide after water.
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