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The Legendary Origins of Tea
The story of tea began in ancient China over 5,000 years ago. According to legend, in 2737 b.c., the Shen Nong, an early emperor, was a skilled ruler, creative scientist and patron of the arts. His far-sighted edicts required, among other things, that all drinking water be boiled as a hygienic precaution. One summer day while visiting a distant region of his realm, he and the court stopped to rest. In accordance with his ruling, the servants began to boil water for the court to drink. Dried leaves from the near by bush fell into the boiling water unnoticed, and a brown liquid was infused into the water. As a scientist, the Emperor was interested in the new liquid, drank some, sniffed the pleasing aroma and found it very refreshing. And so, according to legend, tea was created. China kept tea to itself for nearly three thousand years. (This myth maintains such a practical narrative that many mythologists believe it may relate closely to the actual events, now lost in ancient history.)
The earliest recorded mention of tea as a beverage comes to us across the ages from an ancient scroll brushed in 350 A.D. by a scholar named Lu Yu. This parchment is named Cha King, (Holy Scripture of Tea). It is the first book devoted to tea. In this work, Lu Yu explains the cultivation, processing and use of tea, then the national beverage of China. Blends were many, even so long ago. Lu Yu says there are “a thousand and ten thousand teas.”
In the 1600’s tea became popular throughout Europe and the American colonies. Since colonial days, tea has played a role in American culture and customs. Today American schoolchildren learn about the famous Boston Tea Party protesting the British tea tax — one of the acts leading to the Revolutionary War. During this century, two major American contributions to the tea industry occurred. In 1904, iced tea was created at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, and in 1908, Thomas Sullivan of New York developed the concept of tea in a bag.