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Traditions and legends of tea

Tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world. There are a few different legends that tell the potential story of the origin of tea use.

The most famous legend of tea’s origin is the story of Shen Nung, a Chinese emperor and renowned herbalist. Shen Nung was traveling to visit a distant region under his rule in 2737 B.C. He had his servants boiling water to make it drinkable and leaves from a nearby bush fell into the water. The leaves turned the water brown and the fragrance enticed Shen Nung to taste the water. Shen Nung was delighted with the flavor the leaves had given the water and found that it invigorated the body.

The Buddhist legend of the discovery of tea tells that Siddhartha Guatama, known to the world as Buddha, was on his way to China and had vowed to stay awake for the entire trip.

The legend as told on the website, Bigelow tea says this: “Wearisome after days of travel, Siddhartha breached his vow and slept. Upon waking, he cursed his eyelids and promptly removed them, throwing them to the ground. To his dismay, the eyelids quickly buried into the soil and within moments sprouted a tea bush. Siddhartha partook in the leaves of the bush, and immediately his tired body was replete with energy.”

There is no proof that either legend is true. Tea started being drank daily in China around 300 A.D. Siddhartha Guatama lived around 6 B.C.E. Even if Buddha discovered tea around that time, the discovery by the Chinese came almost three thousand years earlier.

About 900 A.D., tea drinking moved to Japan, where it became very popular. Tea wasn’t introduced to Europe until the 1600’s. Initially tea was very expensive so only the aristocracy could afford to drink tea.

There are different types of tea traditions that have different purposes and meaning. Buddhist are believed to have started the first ritualistic use of tea. Soon after tea was discovered by the Buddhist, they harnessed the mysticism surrounding the drinking of tea. “In the humble and highly symbolic Buddhist tea ceremony, followers retire to a chamber that is apart from the troubled world. In this almost barren tea room, they ritualistically consume tea offered by a tea master, all the while focusing on peace and simplicity. This exercise, which may take up to three years to perfect, is exemplary of the harmonious teachings of the faith.”

The Chinese have always used tea for its medicinal purposes. There is also a story that tells that if a young man wants to court a girl in China, he must bring tea to her family as a present before he can ask the parent if he may court the girl.

The British afternoon tea tradition started in the early 1800’s. “Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, is credited with the origination of afternoon tea in the early 1800s. In Anna’s day, lunch was served at noon, with dinner often put off until well into the evening. As the story goes, Anna decided that a light meal over tea in the late afternoon would be the perfect solution to her between-meal hunger pangs. Given Anna’s social stature, the concept took off among the upper class, proving to be an excellent social venue. The term “high tea” is actually owed to England’s working class, who transformed the afternoon tea into their primary evening meal, serving much heartier fare such as meats, cakes, bread and pies. “High” tea is a reference to the table the working class sat at while taking their tea – tall in comparison to the low, delicate tables at which the gentry took their lighter, more formal tea. Queen Victoria introduced the English to the Russian custom of adding lemon to their tea after visiting one of her daughters in Russia – before that, the English took only milk with their tea.”

Today, tea is a popular drink all over the world. There is no real right time to drink tea. Tea is a wonderful drink anytime of the day.