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China Tea: (1) origin and propagation

Updated on February 14, 2012

China is the homeland of Tea. Ancient Chinese first discovered and used tea about four, five thousand years ago, i.e. the late of Paleolithic Age. It was recorded that people who were in Paleolithic Age had discovered that tea leaves could function as detoxification.

Shen Nong Shi or Patron of Agriculture, who was one of three the most remote Chinese ancestors, and discovered agriculture and medicine, and invented and taught people the technique of planting. The anecdote tells that Shen Nong used to taste various plants, and some of them were toxic, but he used tea to detoxify them. After that, tea leaves had been used in medicine.

Shen Nong Shi
Shen Nong Shi | Source

So far as tea became daily drinking, it involved in another element, i.e. a special necessity for tea in actual life. The cradle place of tea is in south-west China, including Yunnan, Guizou, and Sichuan provinces, where also first people showed up. Sichuan was a place where people got sick easily because of much heat-toxicity and malaria in ancient time. Then, people found that tea could be against those toxins by refreshing energy, improving digestion, and inducing catharsis. Gradually, drinking tea as medicine had been developed into a living habit as daily drink in Sichuan. With the foundation of the first united imperial Qin Dynasty, the transportation became more and more convenient within the whole country, and therefore, the daily custom of drinking tea was introduced into inland and spreaded across the country. Scholar Zhou in Qing Dynasty described this change of tea used from as a medicine to a common drink. It was the special natural and geographic condition that created such a digesting habit and custom.

Yunnan minor group girls are picking up tea leaves.
Yunnan minor group girls are picking up tea leaves. | Source
"The King of Tea Trees"
"The King of Tea Trees" | Source

In 198 sites of 10 out of 32 provinces in China, large wild tea trees were found. The oldest one was confirmed 2,700 years old, which is known as the King of Tea Trees. The book Er Ya handed down from the year of 200 A.D. had had description about wild tea trees. However, being the native country of tea, China is, not the only place where wild tea trees have been found. In 1823, a major of a British invading army to India found a wild tea tree in India, based on which some people argued that tea originated from India instead of China. However, it is non-logical to think that where to find wild tree is the cradle place of tea. All early records about producing and drinking tea are from China, while none of records and documents before 1823 was from India, and that tree found by the British major was probably from China. Tea is a nationwide drink in China. It initiated from late of Paleolithic Age, known widely in Spring & Autumn Age, and popular since Tang Dynasty. With time, mixed with ideas and ceremonies of Buddhism, Confucius and Taoism, making and drinking tea has been developed into a unique Tea Culture in China.

Buddhist and Tea
Buddhist and Tea | Source

Tea was introduced into Japan by monks in prosperous Tang Dynasty. In early days, tea was luxury product only consumed by noble families and Buddhist. In China Song Dynasty, the famous Japanese Buddhist master, Rongxi (just a translation based on Chinese pronunciation), returned back to Japan from Song. He brought seedlings of tea trees, and since then tea began to approach popular in public. Rongxi master used to heal a current poet and general with tea, and became known by the event. He also wrote a book about tea, Health Preserving by Drinking Tea. Tea became known to western people when Portuguese travelled to the east in 16th century. Portuguese businessmen landed on Macao, and first saw local people drinking tea. After that, the Dutchmen travelled to Fuzou China, where tea was produced in great number. They input few tea product into Europe by Holland East India Company. Currently, tea was rare and expensive in Europe, only seen in royal and noble ceremonies. When British emperor, Charlie 13th, married Portugal princess in 1662, one of tributes of the Queen was tea, which was said the first time that tea was introduced into England.

Victorian Period
Victorian Period | Source

In short, China tea is a great contribution to the health of humans. Shen Nong Shi should be reasonably considered as the first foreman about tea. China tea is introduced to every part of the world, improving the health, promoting happiness and establishing the harmony, which in turn adds extra attraction into Tea Culture in the world.

Paper cut: a girl is picking up tea leaves at sheep cliff.
Paper cut: a girl is picking up tea leaves at sheep cliff.


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    • Hui (蕙) profile image

      Hui (蕙) 5 years ago

      Hi :) To be frankly, I don't feel funny about tiny cups for drink. Actually, it is a cultural inheritage, only for taste, not for drink, from which people can understand the essense of tea. I am not capable for that, but I try to appreciate it and I really like those traditional tea cups. You feel funny, maybe only because you are still outside the culture. Besides, I feel you may get wrong information about that norhern Chinese do not like drink tea. They do, and maybe more than southernese. I used to study in Beijing, and know a lot northern people who like tea. Of course, young generations tend to westernalization, which is kinda sad. God bless!

    • teacherjoe52 profile image

      teacherjoe52 5 years ago

      H i Hui.

      I find it interesting that Northern Chinese do not like to drink tea. They prefer ??.

      I find the tea ceremony strange and yet interesting. I think it is funny when we drink out of such tiny cups.

      Very informative article.

      Good girl.

      Yes it was quite the adventure riding a bycyle from Canada to the bottom of the Baja. Many people here ride thier bikes from Guangzhou to Shenzgen in a few hours or go into Hong Kong. Hong Kong is very challenging as the hills are very steep.

      God bless.

    • Hui (蕙) profile image

      Hui (蕙) 6 years ago

      Thanks, dilipchandra12, for the surportiveness and the comment. I wish I would help some in this space.

    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 6 years ago from India

      Hui, this is mind blowing history on Tea. Very informative and interesting. Thanks for sharing the above. Voted UP.