Tea Thru Time-Early Man Finds Wild Tea Thru China’s Zhou Dynasty (1122-256 BC)

Legend tells of teas discovery by emperor, scholar, Shen Nung in 2737BC, when
leaves carried on the wind fell into his pot of boiling water.  But thanks to anth-
ropologists we can go back even further, to the time of early man and the pre-
history of tea.
To get an idea of where tea
first grew, take out a World
map and follow the line from 
Assam in
India to Yunnan province in
southwestern China, along the borders of
Burma (today called Myanmar), Laos (goes
by Lao People’s Democratic Republic),
Vietnam, and finally Thailand.
This gives you a rough idea of the area anth-
ropologists have identified as the place
where ancient tea trees existed, and where
some are still found today growing in large
areas of remote forests that straddle the
borders between the countries you just
Today indigenous tea trees still grow in the old growth forests of Xishuangbanna, in the hot,
steamy southwestern corner of China’s 
Yunnan province.  One of the world’s oldest living plants
is found in this area, a 1,700 year old tree named “King of Tea Trees,” located on Nan Nuo
This agricultural area is fed by the rich, fertile watershed of the
Mekong River.  Other ancient tea trees are found in this region,
growing across seven tea mountains, some 20-30 feet tall, and
believed to be 500 to 1,000 years old.

The trees and tea bushes found in these remote areas have
provided fresh leaf for tea and tea drinking customs for the
indigenous populations of ethnic minorities living there for centuries.  Local populations of Dai
and Bulang minorities revere the trees, considering them an ancient living gift from their

It’s believed that prehistoric man (species
Homo erectus) were the first humans to dis-
cover the indigenous tea trees in the an-
cient, wild forests of Yunnan.  By watching
forest-dwelling animals, or spurred by their
own desire to find food, early man possibly
chewed on tea leaves, discovering them to
be a source of invigorating energy, although
very bitter to the taste.

Once they learned to build fire, tea
trees might possibly have been used
as fuel as well as the tea leaves
stripped from the branches and mix-
ed with other foraged barks and
leaves, boiled into an invigorating
albeit strong, and likely bitter brew.

By the start of the Shang Dynasty (1766-1050BC) in China’s
Yunnan province, tea was being used for

medicinal purposes.
Regardless of the ailment, tea leaves were boiled along with
other plants, barks, seeds, and leaves into a 
herbal concoction
used as a medicinal tonic to heal a host of different illnesses.
The Chinese gleaned much healing wisdom from these early trial
and error brews, of which they would later become famous for
their healing herbal remedies and vast knowledge of pharmaco-
peia.  From the beginning tea was one of the most important and
useful ingredients considered necessary for maintaining a healthy
body and mind.

Indigenous wild tea trees were also located in the Sichuan
province located northeast of Yunnan, toward the end of the
Zhou dynasty (1122-256BC).  It was during this time that it’s
believed tea leaves were boiled into a concentrated liquid for
drinking, without adding any other leaves or herbs, and for
the first time considered to be a stimulating beverage rather
than a medicinal brew.

It was toward the middle of the Zhou dynasty that China’s three
great philosophical religions were created; Buddhism, Confucian-
ism, and Daoism.  Each of the three religions adopted tea and tea
drinking for its many health enhancing benefits and its abilities of
rejuvenation, virtues deemed necessary.

The monks and priests who tried tea found that it helped them
stay awake and alert during the many long hours of meditation,
and they also deemed it a virtuous and necessary tonic, declaring
tea as the “elixir of life,” and should be drank by all.

As the popularity of the three religions spread throughout

China, so too did the news of this life enhancing brew.To this point in time tea had undergone many changes, but much more was in store, as
with each successive dynasty the rules and ways of 
brewing and drinking tea would

There was massive upheaval ahead for the tiny tea leaf and China, its country of origin, as it journeyed forward into
the Qin Dynasty (221-210BC) under emperor, Qin Shihuangdi.  Enjoy.