Green tea is one of the most popular drinks on the planet. The sad fact, however, is that many of the people who drink it – even those who drink it on a regular basis – are completely in the dark about its history and origins. Thousands of years old, it is one of the oldest beverages that is still popularly consumed, and benefits from a rich history of culture and ingenuity.
Chinese Origins – 350 AD to 729 AD
While the history of green tea is certainly full of mystery and unknowns, it is agreed upon by historians throughout the world that the tea originated in China approximately five thousand years ago. According to Chinese legend, a man named Shien Non Shei discovered green tea leaves, tasted them and was instantly won over by their pungent, almost medicinal qualities. Most historians agree that discovery eventually led to experimentation, where the leaves would eventually be found to benefit most from hot (but never boiling) water, turning them into a delicious beverage with mysterious qualities.Chinese Tea History
Soon after the discovery of green tea, the drink quickly became a mainstay for Chinese royalty and wealthy individuals, who were the first to drink green tea on a regular basis. At one point, it was even used as currency, as it held significant value and was tough to come about for those who were poor or did not have connections to royalty. The first known Chinese account of green tea’s health benefits is thought to have been written by a man named Lu Yu and is entitled “The Classic of Tea.” The book elaborates on each of the many supposed health benefits, which are surprisingly similar to what most scientists and doctors believe today.
While green tea was first reserved for the elite as it commanded quite a high price, it was bound to disseminate through the rest of China at some point, which is exactly what it did after 1368 AD’s fall of the Mongolian Empire. Suddenly, China’s entire population had access to green tea, and the drink was no longer reserved only for royalty and the rich. It was only a matter of time before green tea began to spread further. Eventually, small tea houses began to spring up in communities, becoming some of the first social watering holes in the world. Tea makers soon became artisans, respected among the community in the same way doctors and lawyers are respected today.
On to Japan – 729 AD to 1517 AD
Once green tea made its way to Japan, it found an audience that was hot to progress the tea to a whole new level. Green tea cultivation is thought to have began in Japan in the year 729 AD, a time when the emperor would give Buddhist monks gifts of powdered green tea. With the unveiling of such varieties as Sencha and Matcha, green tea finally began to come into its own. The Japanese assimilated green tea very quickly, and it fast became just as wholly identified with Japan as it did China.
It wasn’t long until Japan had its own authoritative book on the wonders of green tea. Written in 1211 AD by a Japanese man named Eisai Myoan, “Tea Drinking is Good for your Health” had an immediate impact on the people of Japan and the way green tea was viewed in the country. The growing popularity of green tea in Japan hit its apex in the 1400s when a Japanese Zen priest created the country’s first tea ceremony, one that would live on for hundreds of years into the future.