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History of Tea

Tea: A Story of Serendipity

As legend has it, one day in 2737 B.C. the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was boiling drinking water over an open fire, believing that those who drank boiled water were healthier. Some leaves from a nearby Camellia sinensis plant floated into the pot. The emperor drank the mixture and declared it gave one "vigor of body, contentment of mind, and determination of purpose."

Perhaps as testament to the emperor's assessment, tea--the potion he unwittingly brewed that day--today is second only to water in worldwide consumption. The U.S. population is drinking its fair share of the brew; in 1994, Americans drank 2.25 billion gallons of tea in one form or another--hot, iced, spiced, flavored, with or without sugar, honey, milk, cream, or lemon.

A serving of tea generally contains about 40 milligrams of caffeine (less than half as much caffeine as in coffee), but the actual levels vary depending on the specific blend and the strength of the brew. Decaffeinated tea is also available.

Many tea drinkers find the beverage soothing, and folk medicine has long valued it as a remedy for sore throats and unsettled stomachs. Recent studies have shown that certain chemicals in tea called polyphenols may help reduce the risk of far more serious illnesses, including atherosclerosis and some cancers, although the data are not conclusive.

Tea comes in black, green and oolong varieties, all produced from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, a white-flowered evergreen. The method of processing the leaf distinguishes the three types. (Herbal teas are made from leaves of other plants. FDA requires that herbal tea labels carry the name of the plant the product derives from, such as chamomile. For more on herbal teas, see "Herbal Teas and Toxicity" in the May 1991 FDA Consumer.)

For full story see; Tea: A Story of Serendipity

Yet another version of the History of Tea

There are as many legends about the origins of tea as there are about corfee. 0nc such tale credics the discovery of the beverage to the Chinese Emperor Chen Nung. He was called "the Divine Healer" and had discovered the healing power of a number of herbs. He also advocated thc boiling of all drinking water to prevent disease and it was this habit that led him to the discovery of tea.

One night in the year 2737 B.C., the emperor sat before his campfire waiting for his drinking water to boil. As it happened, the fire was made from brandies of thc Camellia sinensis.

... Some scorched leaves swirled upwards nn a column of hot air, then slowly subsided. A good many fell into the pot. The emperor might well have thrown the water away, but the delightful scent now coming from the cauldron tempted him to taste it. The flavor was astringent, clean, refreshing. As an advocatc of healthful concoctions it appealed Strongly to him. He began experimenting with more leaves of the same tree.

As a result, tea was added to the emperor's list of herbals.

While this story is speculation, it may not be too far from the truth. It was common for the early Chinese to boil drinking water. The taste of boiled water is singularly unappealing and no doubt many flavoring agents were tried. Tea makes boiled watter not only palatable, but good tasting, and it provides the extra stimulation of caffeine. In combination with the improved protection from disease provided by the boiled water it is not surprising that tea not only became popular, but was also viewed as medicinal.

Tea was cultivated and sold commercially by 780 A.D. when the book Ch'a Ching or Tea Classic was written. The book was sponsored by a group of merchants and its purpose was to promote tea drinking. This has prompted one tea historian to declare "... The affair, in fact, justifies us in adding Public Relations to Gunpowder, Printing and of course Tea on the list of China's anticipations of twentieth century man's profoundest needs." (Tea for the British, Forest D., 1973, London: Chatto & Windus.)

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