The origins of tea have been debated for centuries. Many stories, myths and legends spreading across cultures over the span of thousands of years are associated with Tea. The earliest credible record of tea drinking dates back to around 1737 AD. According to a popular legend, tea was discovered by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, when a few leaves were blown from a nearby tree into his pot of boiling water, changing the color! After taking a sip of the brew, to the emperor’s pleasant surprise, not only did the leaves improve the taste of the water, but it seemed to have a stimulative effect on the body!
Another legend tells us how Prince Dharma was touched by Divine grace and went out to preach the teachings of Buddha in China. In order to make himself worthy of such a graceful mission, Dharma took an oath, never to sleep during the nine years of his journey. However, at the end of the third year, he was overcome by drowsiness and was about to fall asleep, when incidentally, he plucked a few leaves from a wild tea plant and began to chew them. Instantly, the stimulating qualities of tea had their effect, and Dharma felt much more alert and, henceforth, attributed the strength he found to stay awake during the six remaining years of his apostolic mission to these leaves.
Yet another Indian tale tells the story as to why, tea is supposedly, a creation of Lord Buddha Himself. During a pilgrimage to China, Lord Buddha was said to have taken a vow to meditate without rest for nine years. But, after sometime, he dozed off. Upon awakening, he was said to have torn off his eyelids and thrown them to the ground out of frustration. Supposedly, the eyelids took root and germinated into plants that sprouted leaves with an eyelid shape. He then chewed the leaves of this plant, and his fatigue vanished. The plant, of course, was said to be the first tea plant, which he carried with him to China. However, it is important to note that there is no evidence that the Buddha ever went to China.
Although the extent of the popularity of tea in Ancient India is unknown, the origin of tea cultivation in India is somewhat ambiguous. It is known that, the tea was a wild plant in India, that was brewed by local inhabitants of different regions.
It is also believed that, the first recorded reference to tea in India was in the ancient epic of the Ramayana, when Hanuman was sent to the Himalayas to bring the stimulant Sanjeevani tea plant for medicinal use.
Irrespective of the fact, whether these legends have at all any basis or not, tea has played a significant role in Asian culture for centuries as a staple beverage and a curative. Hence, it is not surprising that, the theories of its origin are often religious or royal in nature.