Tea has been enjoyed as both a hot and cold beverage in countries across the world for centuries. It has sweeping health benefits, it’s comforting, and it’s delicious. How did humans first begin to drink and cultivate tea? Who first figured out that the tea plant’s leaves made a tasty drink? Tracing tea’s origin isn’t easy, but what the most popular story involves a Chinese Emperor who lived almost 5,000 years ago.
The tea plant originated somewhere in southwest China, Tibet, and Northern India. It was here, in 2737 BC, that the legend goes that Chinese Emperor Shen Nong, a ruler and scientist, accidentally discovered how to make tea. He was boiling water in his garden when a leaf from a wild tea plant floated into his pot. The leaf turned the water an interesting color and made it aromatic, so, the emperor decided to try drinking it. He enjoyed the taste and found himself feeling refreshed. After that, he started cultivating the wild tea plant, and thus, tea was discovered completely by accident.
Indian mythology has a slightly more colorful theory,: the discovery of tea is credited to Prince Bodhi-Dharma, the saint who founded the Japanese Zen school of Buddhism. The myth goes that, somewhere in 520 AD, he left India to preach Buddhism in China and vowed to mediate for nine years without sleeping. Towards the end of his project, he fell asleep on accident. This distressed him so much that he cut off his own eyelids. The myth says that, where his bloody eyelids hit the ground, a tea plant sprung up to commemorate his sacrifice.
Another theory goes that Chinese traders traveled through Tibet and Northern India and found people chewing tea leaves, and from these adventures, the Chinese learned about tea’s benefits to the human body and developed it into a drink.
Whatever the story or theory, it’s clear that tea originated in China sometime before the sixth century AD. It was an enormous hit, and we’ve been drinking it ever since.