Legends are interesting and fun and mostly quite unbelievable! But let's be practical and agree that the discovery of tea had to happen somehow and that China is its birthplace.
The emperor Shen Nong was boiling water under a tree in 2737 BC. A light breeze came up and leaves fell into his water producing a delicate liquor. He decided to taste it and loved it. The tree was a wild tea plant we now call the camellia sinensis.
And then there's this legend which isn't so appealing!
Bodhidharma was the first patriarch of Zen. He was determined to meditate for nine years without falling asleep. But he drowsed off, and when he awoke he was so angry he cut off his eyelids and threw them on the ground. From the eyelids grew the first tea plant.
There was a long period of time that tea was used medicinally in China before Buddhist monks visiting from Japan took it back home with them. That was in the 7th century. But it wasn't till the 15th century that Japan attempted the production of tea which by then had become a religion, art and a philosophy, two of which are the foundation of the Japanese tea ceremony.
Ichigo Ichie states that through tea, recognition is given that every human encounter is a singular occasion which can and will never recur again in exactly the same way.
Wabi is finding beauty in the imperfect, and appreciating the profound in all things in nature.
Though these two philosophies are a part of the ceremony which I hope to experience some day, I find them significant in my tea journey and sense the spiritual implications as I sip my tea.
Tea was making quite an impact in China and Japan and with the advancement of the Portuguese navy, China was seeing opportunities to trade with the rest of Europe. France and Holland were first to embrace tea. In 1606 the first tea chests arrived from China! Russia developed its trade route of 11,000 miles and started transporting tea on camels. It took England a little longer to get on board, being the last to get in on the product in 1652.
But then tea takes on some dark history when opium (grown by the English in India) was traded for tea in China. A lot of nasty things resulted from this. Sadly, greed cast a shadow over the spiritual, healing ways of tea.
Tea arrived in America via English and Dutch settlers in the 1650s. New Amsterdam, now New York, consumed more tea than all of England at that time.
Wars and competitive trading deals continued until America developed a partnership with China by paying with gold, thus ending England's monopoly on the tea trade.
So what about Canada? It's hard to believe there was a time when we didn't have it, but there was so much going on in 1716 pre-confederation. Indigenous people, the French and the English were inhabiting the land. Tea finally arrived in 1716, imported by the Hudson's Bay Company...Thank goodness!
I have given you a very brief account of tea's journey. I, for one am thankful it made it through turbulent historic eras in lands around the world. It is indeed a beverage to celebrate!
With my eyelids fully intact, I hold up my cup and say, "Here, here to tea!" Won't you join me?