It was in China approximately 4000 years ago that tea was first cultivated and consumed by humans. The legends told about where and when tea was originally made are more fiction than fact. No one knows for sure where or when tea was first brewed. Sheng Nong, a mythical figure in Chinese history who was also a skilled medical practitioner, is said to have discovered tea as a medicinal herb around the year 2737 B.C. Sheng’s pot of boiling water was accidentally contaminated with tea leaves one day while he was cooking beneath a tea tree and heating water. Following the consumption of some tea, he was able to uncover the extraordinary capabilities that tea had and promptly included tea to his list of therapeutic plants.
Tea was first used as both an offering and a medication, but during the time of the Western Han Dynasty, it evolved into the most popular beverage. It was first cultivated by Buddhist monks in the areas surrounding their monasteries. Later, during the Ming dynasty, the tea trade assumed a larger position in the economy of the state, and a bureau called the “Tea and Horse Bureau” was established to manage the tea trade.
It was a Buddhist monk who brought tea to Japan in the sixth century, and a Portuguese missionary brought it to Europe in the sixteenth century. This marked the beginning of the history of tea as an international beverage. Trade between China and the western world increased significantly with the beginning of the Ching Dynasty. At the same time that the Emperor of China was taking his first snuff of tobacco brought from Europe, the Queen of England was sipping her first cup of tea.
To stabilise these large ships, they required ballast, which consists of heavy objects or weights placed in the lowest section of the hull of the ship to counterbalance the weight of the masts and sails. On their journey eastward, the ballast consisted of lead and sulpher, which was traded to the Chinese for porcelain. On their journey home, they needed something cheap and of equal weight, and porcelain goods were the perfect solution.
The only requirements for producing porcelain were clay and skilled artisans, both of which were plentiful in China. The Chinese were eager to supply porcelain goods to the west because they could turn dirt into gold with the addition of labour. By the end of the 18th century, millions of pieces of porcelain were being produced for export. Tea required a longer period of time to cultivate and could only be grown in certain climates.
The Many Advantages of Consuming Tea
A great deal was written in ancient Chinese books about tea, particularly about its positive effects on one’s health. One such passage reads as follows: “Drinking genuine tea aids in quenching thirst and in digestion, checks phlegm, wards off sleepiness, stimulates renal activity, improves eyesight and mental prowess, dispels boredom, and dissolves greasy food.”
Studies have shown that drinking four cups of green tea every day can reduce the risk of developing stomach and lung cancer as well as heart disease. ECGC is a cancer-fighting flavonoid that is unique in that it seems to battle cancer at all stages, from thwarting chemical carcinogens to suppressing the spread of cancer cells.