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The History of Tea

Our history of tea begins in China.  Tea is given its ‘birth date’ of 2737 BC.  in the classic tea book Ch’a Ching written by Lu Yu in 780 AD.  The discoverer is said to be Emperor Shen Nung.

Lu Yu gave Emperor Nung credit for writing a treatise on tea where Shen Nung said “Tea gives one vigor of body, contentment of mind, and determination of purpose, when taken over a long period of time.”  He also said “Better to drink such a beverage than to drink wine which loosens the tongue!”  Lu Yu's book made many additional notes of the medicinal benefits of tea which are still being confirmed till this day.

Yu’s Ch’a Ching (Classic of Tea) took over two decades to write and it dealt with the correct brewing of tea, the utensils to use and the proper water.  He described steeping in a way to maximize the taste and health benefits of the individual teas.

During theTang Dynasty (618-907AD) China was the largest, wealthiest, and most populous empire on earth.  Its population exceeded fifty million and its capital city was home to two million.  Trade and the arts flourished and so did the custom of tea drinking.  This tea drinking helped China to grow because the powerful antiseptic properties of tea which killed waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery even in water not properly boiled.  The effect was that of reducing infant mortality and increasing longevity according to Tom Standage in his book A History of the World in Six Glasses

Until tea became a matter of international trade for China all tea was green tea.  It would be dried, processed (mostly ground) and stored in cakes.  To brew the tea from cakes pieces of the baked cakes were boiled and a ‘soup’ was made that often times included other flavorings of fruits and vegetables like onions, ginger, mints and other herbs.

Some of the cakes during the Song Dynasty (960AD – 1279AD) were powdered and beaten into foams of different colors and multiple infusions became popular.  This was at the time when Japan was introduced to tea and many Japanese have preserved this preparation method until modern times.