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The history of tea

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The popular legend says tea was discovered by Emperor Shennong in ancient China.

The popular legend says tea was discovered by Emperor Shennong in ancient China.

The practice of drinking tea has a long history in China.

Shennong (Chinese: 神农), whose name means the Divine Farmer -- and who is considered as the ancient Chinese Father of Agriculture, is honored with the discovery of tea. According to legend, one fall afternoon, Shennong decided to take a rest under a Camellia tree and boiled some water to drink. Dried leaves from the tree above floated down into the pot of boiling water and infused with the water, creating a pot of tea, marking the first ever infusion of the tea leaf. Intrigued by the delightful fragrance, Shennong took a sip and found it refreshing.

Since Shennong's discovery, tea has been grown and enjoyed throughout the world.

In the beginning, tea was used in ritual offerings. Then, tea leaves were eaten as a vegetable, or used in medicine. Until the Han Dynasty more than 2,000 years ago, tea was a new drink.

During the Sui Dynasty (581-618), tea was used for its medicinal qualities. In the fourth and fifth centuries, rice, salt, spices, ginger and orange peel, among other ingredients, were added to tea. In the Tang Dynasty (618-907), tea drinking became an art form and a drink enjoyed by all social classes.

Tea became a popular drink in Buddhist monasteries after the caffeine proved to keep the monks awake during long hours of meditation. For this reason, many monasteries cultivated vast tea fields. Lu Yu (Chinese: 陆羽), author of The Book of Tea, was an orphan brought up and educated in a monastery. It is likely that his experience growing up surrounded by tea inspired his book written during the Tang Dynasty. In The Book of Tea, Lu Yu recorded a detailed account of ways to cultivate and prepare tea, tea drinking customs, the best water for tea brewing and different classifications of tea.

Whipped powdered tea became fashionable during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), but disappeared completely from Chinese culture after the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), when many other aspects of Song culture were erased during foreign rule. Chinese people later became accustomed to drinking steeped tea from leaves after the Yuan Dynasty and continue to drink it this way today.

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