Tea was discovered accidentally by emperor Shennung, 神農氏, approximately 3000 years before Christ.
Another tea account claims a Buddhist monk named Gan Lu (Sweet Dew) brought tea back with him when he returned from a pilgrimage to India during the first century.

In this Article
Mt. Mengding

On Mt. Mengding in Sichuan, the mythological seven tea trees, are still worshiped. They are demarcated by a tall stone wall, where 2 stone tigers guard the front and back entrances. The walls surround the 7 ancient tea trees, each more than 2000 years old. Every year, on March 27, a ritual for the “ tea gods” is performed at this site. As a form of reverence, no one makes tea from these 7 ancient trees.

Another tea story says tea sprang from the eyelids of Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of Zen, called Daruma by the Japanese.

The Tri-junction of India (Assam), Burma and China is said to be the place of origin of tea from where it reached China. Or was Yunnan, the homeland of the wild tea plant, and Sichuan, where it seems first to have been cultivated? Or is it the Tianluo Mountains in east China where archeological evidence suggests tea cultivation 6000 years ago?

The answer will be found somewhere on the silk route, around the point of confluence of the lands of northeast India, north Burma, southwest China and Tibet. The most significant commodity carried along this route was not silk or tea, but exchange of culture: knowledge, rituals and stories.

Silk route.

We learned about tea, Camellia sinensis, and China’s passion for tea, in a skyscraper in Shenzen, China. Sitting on the third floor, after several hours of tea tasting and stories, we got a small glimpse of the cultural history of tea in China. And founf out, that the toilet was a twenty minute walk away, it was worth it.

Shennong 神農氏 and the discovery of tea

It was Emperor Shennong, (also spelled Shennung, Shen Yun or Shen Nong), or called Yan, who is the mythological father of ancient Chinese medicine and the discovery of tea.

CHINA: On the origins of TEA

According to legend, Shennong’s mother encountered a dragon, and soon gave birth. Shennong was born with an ox’s head and a human body, but this was no ordinary body — it was transparent, like crystal. Because of this, the effects of any food or herb could easily be identified upon entering him.

In the remote ages of ancient China, people didn’t know how to treat diseases, and many were left to die without any treatment. In order to save them, Shennong went into the mountains to test and record the effects of various herbs and medicinal plants. He tested hundreds of unique plants by extracting their juices with a magical whip. To counteract regularly poisoning himself, it is said that Shennong drank tea to detoxify his body.

“Shennong’s Herbal Classic” is the earliest Chinese herbal textbook, and Shennong is regarded as the founder of agriculture and medicine in China.

Shen Yun Official Account on google+, 2012

How Tea came to China

According to a Chinese legend, tea was discovered accidentally by emperor Shennung, 神農氏, approximately 2737 years before Christ.

The emperor set up camp with his entourage in the shade of a large tree. the cook prepared a fire and a pot with boiling water over it. The heat of the fire brought some of the leaves of the long branches of the tree to dry out. Suddenly, a fierce wind got up and blew some of the leaves into the pot with boiling water. The water turned golden and a highly pleasant scent appeared. The emperor tried the drink and was delighted by the scent and delicious taste. Being immediately aware of the refreshing and invigorating effect, the emperor let out the sound

“T’sa”. Which means godlike, and until today, “cha” is the Chinese name for tea.

A Chinese woman picking tea leaves. Wood-engraving, 1857, after a pen and ink drawing. ©Wellcome Collection.

“Shennong tasted hundreds of herbs, he encountered seventy two poisons daily and used tea as an antidote”

Shennong Ben Cao Jing, 神农本草经
European impression of a Chinese man with his pot of tea
European impression of a Chinese man with his pot and cup of tea

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Keep exploring:

Works Cited & Multimedia Sources
  • CHA.
  • Dumoulin Heinrich. Zen Buddhism: A History. 1988.
  • Heiss Mary Lou; Robert J. Heiss. The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide. 2007.
  • Porter Bill. The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma. 1987.
  • Wikimedia Commons: Map the silkroad and Tastingtea.