The Early History of Tea

No one would ever have guessed that when emperor and scholar, Shen Nung
discovered the humble tea leaf in 2737 AD that it would go on to have all the
elements of a blockbuster hit movie complete with adventure and intrigue,
riches made and lost, war, revolution, power, fame, and massive social change,
as it made its way around the world.
No one knows for certain if
the date given for Shen Nung’s discovery of
tea in 2737 AD, when a leaf, carried on the
wind, landed in his pot of boiling water is
accurate, but it is the accepted legend.
From the time of its discovery the Chinese
immediately recognized the medicinal value of
tea, using it for everything from a digestive
aid, to help relieve rheumatism, to a topical
ointment to help soothe skin problems.Up until the

Han Dynasty (AD 206-220) it is
believed that wild tea trees were cut down
and their leaves stripped from the branches
to be brewed.  It was during this period that
commercial plantations were established to

meet the ever growing demand for the raw tea leaves.  High quality crops and improved manu-
facturing methods developed during this time, ensured a thriving tea trade throughout China,
helping to earn massive fortunes for the tea traders.
By the end of the third century tea was established as China’s national
drink.  In AD 332, Zhang Yi wrote the first detailed account of manufact-
ure, detailing how the plants were laid out, pruned and plucked, and the
method of processing.During the fourth and fifth centuries tea was seen in a new light.  No
longer was it just drunk as a medicinal tonic, but was now seen as a
pleasurable drink.  It was also a time of growth as many new planta-
tions were added along the Yangtze River Valley.


Tang Dynasty saw strict new rules of
tea etiquette evolve, leading to the creation
of a new professional class called “Tea Mas-
ters,” who filled an important role in society,
working for the emperor and wealthy man-
It was during the eighth century that Lu Yu,
China’s first real specialist on tea wrote

(Classic of Tea).  Known today as the
“patron saint of tea,” Lu Yu learned the cor-
rect method of 
brewing tea from his adopt-
ive father who was a Buddhist monk and
China’s first real tea specialist.
Lu Yu worked for 20 years to write
Cha Chang, and his work became essential reading for everyone from tea farmers and
researchers, to Chinese consumers.

In Cha Chang, Lu Yu wrote about methods of cultivation, describing the tea plant and
how different teas were manufactured.  He even taught readers what type of water
to use for brewing and about tea’s

health benefits. He
also covered other areas such as the culture and rituals
of tea drinking.
During the

Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) the Chinese Tea
House became the center of Chinese social life. Think of
it as the country club or coffee house of today.  It was a
place where family and friends gathered to play cards or
chess, or just relax and talk.
The Chinese Tea House also provided a new venue for the mer-
chants and businessmen to do business and make deals.  It was
also used as a backdrop for professional actors, jugglers, poets,
and storytellers who often entertained there for the enjoyment
of the people.

By this time the Chinese had begun trading tea to Tibet and Arab
lands to the west, including Turks, tribes, and groups living in the
Himalayans and along the Silk Road trading route which linked

India to Macedonia.In the 16th century China began trade with Europe. Unfortunat-
ely, during the long sea voyages much of the tea spoiled, forcing
Chinese manufacturers to come up with new ideas for process-
ing, packaging, and transportation of the tea.


Chinese teas were green up to this point in history.  Under the Ming Dynasty
          (1368-1644) tea was being sold as loose leaf, instead of the dried, compressed tea
cakes they had been previously.  But the new 
loose leaf tea spoiled easier, well before
reaching its final destination – the customer.
The profit conscious Chinese producers tried a new produc-
tion method, devising black teas.  The naturally oxidized tea leaves turned a dark, rich, coppery color and lasted much longer and travelled better than
the more delicate green teas had.

The Chinese continued their practice of drinking green teas, but happily provided new
black teas to the ever growing European trading companies, exporting a continual supply to their home ports.  Enjoy.