CHINA: On the origins of TEA

T ea was discovered accidentally by emperor Shennung, 神農氏, approximately 3000 years before Christ.


Another tea account claims a Buddhist monk named Gan Lu (Sweet Dew) brought tea back with him when he returned from a pilgrimage to India during the first century. On Mt. Mengding in Sichuan, the mythological seven tea trees, are still worshiped.

Another tea story says tea sprang from the eyelids of Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of Zen, called Daruma by the Japanese.

The Tri-junction of India (Assam), Burma and China is said to be the place of origin of tea from where it reached China.

Or was Yunnan, the homeland of the wild tea plant, and Sichuan, where it seems first to have been cultivated? Or is it the Tianluo Mountains in east China where. archeological evidence suggests tea cultivation 6000 years ago?

The answer will be found somewhere on the silk route, around the point of confluence of the lands of
northeast India, north Burma, southwest China and Tibet.
 The most significant commodity carried along this route was not silk or tea, but exchange of culture, habits and stories.

 

Silk route.

I learned about tea, Camellia sinensis, and China’s nationwide passion for tea, in a skyscraper in Shenzen, China. Sitting on the third floor, the toilet a twenty minute walk away, after several hours of tea tasting and stories, I sadly recognized.

Shennong 神農氏

It was Emperor Shennong, (also spelled Shennung, Shen Yun or Shen Nong), or called Yan, who is the mythological father  of  ancient Chinese medicine and made great contributions to the prosperity of China.

A ccording to legend, Shennong’s mother encountered a dragon, and soon gave birth. Shennong was born with an ox’s head and a human body, but this was no ordinary body—it was transparent, like crystal. Because of this, the effects of any food or herb could easily be identified upon entering him.

In the remote ages of ancient China, people didn’t know how to treat diseases, and many were left to die without any treatment. In order to save them, Shennong went into the mountains to test and record the effects of various herbs and medicinal plants. He tested hundreds of unique plants by extracting their juices with a magical whip. To counteract regularly poisoning himself, it is said that Shennong drank tea to detoxify his body.

“Shennong’s Herbal Classic” is the earliest Chinese herbal textbook, and Shennong is regarded as the founder of agriculture and medicine in China.

Shen Yun Official Account on google+, 2012

How Tea came to China

According to a Chinese legend, tea was discovered accidentally by emperor Shennung, 神農氏, approximately 2737 years before Christ.

T he emperor set up camp with his entourage in the shade of a large tree. the cook prepared a fire  and a pot with boiling water over it. The heat of the fire brought some of the leaves of the long branches of the tree to dry out. Suddenly, a fierce wind got up and blew some of the leaves into the pot with boiling water. The water turned golden and a highly pleasant scent appeared. The emperor tried the drink and was delighted by the scent and delicious taste. Being immediately aware of the refreshing and invigorating effect, the emperor let out the sound

“T’sa”. Which means godlike, and until today, “cha” is the Chinese name for tea.

Wie der Tee nach China kam

Einer chinesischen Legende nach, wurde der Tee von Kaiser Shennung, 神農氏 ca. 3.000 Jahre vor Christus rein zufällig entdeckt.

D er Kaiser lagerte mit seinem Gefolge im Schatten eines mächtigen Baumes. Es war ein Feuer entfacht worden und ein Topf mit heißem Wasser brodelte vor sich hin. Die Hitze des Feuers trocknete einige Blätter an den langen Zweigen des Baumes. Der heftige Wind blies diese Blätter in den brodelnden Wasserkessel. Das Wasser färbte sich golden und ein köstlicher Duft entströmte der Flüssigkeit. Der Kaiser nippte am Gebräu und war entzückt ob des Duftes und des köstlichen Aromas. Angetan von der anregenden Wirkung, entfuhr dem Kaiser der Ausruf

„T`sa“, was soviel wie  göttlich heißt. Bis zum heutigen Tag heißt Tee im Chinesischen „Cha“.

Come il tè arrivò in China

Vi é una leggenda cinese che racconta come l’imperatore Shennung 神農氏 scoprí il té casualmente circa 3000 anni fa.

D urante un viaggio con il suo seguito, l’imperatore si fermó per una sosta sotto ad un grande albero. Un fuoco fu acceso e un calderone pieno d’acqua messo a bolliere. Il calore del fuoco fece seccare alcune foglie su un ramo particolarmente lungo quando un colpo di vento staccó queste foglie e alcune andarono a finire nell’acqua bollente. L’acqua assunse il colore dell’oro ed un profumo squisito pervase l’aria. L’imperatore assaggió la bevanda e rimase entusiasta sia del sapore piacevole che del suo aroma delizioso. Si accorse altresí delle proprietá ristoratrici e stimolanti della bevanda e si lasció scappare un

“T’sa”, che significa “divino”. Ancora oggi il té viene chiamato “Cha” in Cina.

Como el té llegó alla China

Según una leyenda china, el té fue descubierto por mera casualidad por el emperador Shennung, 神農氏 unos 3.000 años antes de Cristo.

E l emperador, junto con su cortejo, descansaba en la sombra de un grande árbol. Habían encendido un fuego, y una olla de agua caliente hervía a borbotones. El calor del fuego secó algunas hojas en las ramas largas del árbol. De repente, un fuerte viento se levantó y sopló varias hojas al caldero con el agua. El agua se tiñó de un color dorado y un perfume delicioso emanó del caldero. El emperador probó la bebida y le encantaron tanto el perfume como el sabor delicioso. Dándose cuenta del efecto agradable y estimulante, al emperador se le escapó el grito:

“T’sa”, lo cual viene a significar “lo divino”. Hasta el día de hoy, en chino se le llama “cha” al té.

A Chinese woman picking tea leaves. Wood-engraving, 1857, after a pen and ink drawing. ©Wellcome Collection.

 

The medicine book entitled Shennong Ben Cao Jing,  神农本草经 stated that

“Shennong tasted hundreds of herbs, he encountered seventy two poisons daily and used tea as an antidote”

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Please enjoy related stories:

*JAPAN: On the origins of TEA

INDIA: On the origins of TEA

The story of tea: A timeline

REFERENCES, ATTRIBUTIONS AND FURTHER READING

  • CHA.
  • Dumoulin Heinrich. Zen Buddhism: A History. 1988.
  • Heiss Mary Lou; Robert J. Heiss. The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide. 2007.
  • Porter Bill. The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma. 1987.
  •  Wikimedia Commons: Map the silkroad and Tastingtea.