Much like coffee, the discovery of tea is a mystery shrouded in legends and stories pass down from generation to generation. I found one to be more popular than others in Chinese folklore. It was told that in 2737 B.C. it was Emperor Shen Nong who accidentally discovered tea. He was said to be boiling water in his garden when a tea leaf fell into his pot. Without noticing he poured himself a cup and began to drink it. To his surprise, he loved the way the leaf water tasted. This prompted him to start researching this new drink and if it had any medicinal properties.

Once the Emperor began to share his findings, those in the Yunnan Province began drinking tea as a medicinal drink. It is also told that the oldest cultivated tea tree Jinxiu Tea Tree resides in this province and it’s estimated to be over 3,200 years old. With a trunk 6 feet wide. Due to this the Yunnan Province is known as “the birthplace of tea.”

The news of tea began to spread, making its way to Sichuan where many began drinking tea recreationally. As legend has it, the Sichuan people enjoyed the taste of the tea leaves and other herbs added. They would boil the leafs down to a concentrated liquid, introducing a new way of consumption – for pleasure.

In India legends tell a different story of how tea was discovered. It is told that Bodhidharma, founder of Chan Buddhism, was the first to discover tea. Bodhidharma was meditating for 9 long years on front of a wall and one day he fell asleep. When he awoke from his nap, Bodhidharma was so ashamed of his weakness that he cut off his own eyelids. When his eyelids fell to the ground it sprung roots and two tea brushes grew. Once large enough the monks cut the brushes down and used the leafs for medicinal and recreational purposes. From there the news of tea spread through the monasteries and eventually throughout the world.

Western missionaries and traders where the first to help spread the news of tea through Europe. Discovered while on the journeys to China, Japan, and even Arabia. The mention of tea and it’s purposes are even mentioned in the writings from famous explorer Marco Polo during his voyages East.

It wasn’t until 1610 that the Dutch began commercially trading tea. This was the first year the Dutch East Indian Company began shipping tea out of Japan and China to Europe.

The next big phase for tea wasn’t until decades later when it began being used as a weapon for protesters. The Sons of Liberty used the Bristish Monarch’s tea against them in the American Revolution. This was brought on by the Tea Act of 1773, which in turn led the Patriots to dump thousands of dollars worth of British tea in the Boston Harbor. Tea became the weapon that started an entire revolution.

After the revolution, America clipper ships began importing their own tea directly from China. Clipper ships, merchant vessels designed for speed, became the ship of choice after the repeal of the Navigation Act; which stated all tea must come directly from England. These newly designed ships easily beat the outdated trading ships, leading to Bristish and Americans racing between China and England, bringing back only the very best tea for auction.

A tradition began to grow in America during the 19th century, tea became “the” drink in social life. In 1904 at the World Fair, ice tea was developed. A tea merchant tried to give free hot tea samples to visitors, but the weather was unsually hot. In the hopes of increasing tea sales, he asked the ice cream vendors for a bit of ice, which he then combined with his brewed tea. This is how the American iced tea was born.

Today, 80% of the tea market in the United States is made up of ice tea; and tea is the second most popular beverage in the world, following behind water. With 5,000 years of history and cultural importance, each cup of tea is a connection to our ancestors, bringing us joy and bliss.