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History of Tea

Tea, which is over 5,000 years old, was possibly born in the Yunnan province of China. Legends mention Shen Nung, an early emperor and scientist, who ruled that all drinking water be boiled as a hygienic precaution. One day while traveling, his servants boiled water for him, and just then dried leaves from a nearby bush fell into the boiling water. The emperor drank the brown liquid and enjoyed it.

In 800, Lu Yu wrote “Ch’a Ching”, the first definitive book on tea. He diligently recorded the various methods of tea cultivation and preparation. Zen Buddhist missionaries later introduced his meticulous methods to imperial Japan. One missionary in particular, Yesei, had observed its use in religious ceremonies in China and appreciated its value, and there are records of his findings.

Tea was so highly thought of in Japan that the serving of it was elevated to an art form, resulting in  the Japanese Tea Ceremony. While visiting Japan I was privy thrice to this exacting two hour ceremony while sitting on bended knees – once by a Buddhist Monk in a temple, once by a Canadian Tea Master and once in a private home while dressed in a kimono.

Perhaps one of the first Europeans to encounter tea and write about it was the Portuguese Jesuit Father Jasper de Cruz (in 1560), and around that time a Dutchman named Jan Huygen van Linshoten visited Java. He wrote about his voyage to the East Indies in 1598 and mentioned “cha”, as it was called in Mandarin.

Around 1650 the Dutch under Peter Stuyvesant brought the first tea to America in the settlement of New Amsterdam, later re-named New York by the English