China’s Contribution to the World – by Meredith Walker
China’s Contribution to the Tea World
Tea has been around for the past 5000 years and has played an integral part in the creation of many cultural movements, even spawning the Boston Tea Party thousands of years later. The creation myth of tea revolves around the myth relating to the Chinese emperor Shen Nun who was a scientist as well as a ruler. One of his edicts stated that all drinking water be boiled in order to combat any outside additives to make water more hygienic for the population. One day, while he was visiting a nearby region, his servants began to boil water and a leaf from a bush fell in, thus creating a brown liquid. Since Shen Nun was a scientist, he drank the liquid and found it to be refreshing, and ever since, tea has played an important part in Chinese society. While the real history of tea remains lost in history, many speculate that the true story closely relates to this myth.
Since this time, tea has infiltrated the whole of Chinese culture as well as later spreading across the Asian world. Buddhist missionaries introduced the art of tea to imperial Japan after Lu Yu codified the various tea cultivation methods of ancient China in 800 A.D., writing down the preparation of tea for all to witness. The Japanese elevated tea to an art form through their Tea Ceremonies which were considered to be near-sacred. Japanese tea gardens still remain in effect throughout much of the world and offer the visitor a secluded spot in which to meditate, drink tea, and generally make yourself one with nature. It is these Zen-like qualities that tea has since taken on, involving a more harmonious interaction with nature. Europe did not begin to take not of tea until Portuguese began to advance their navy during the 16th century, and therefore gained the first right of trade with China; one of the leaders of these expeditions tasted tea for the first time and brought it back to Europe.
In Europe, tea was originally introduced as a costly commodity, making it a must have for the bourgeoisie class of the time, although as trade increased between Asian countries, the price fell and it became a common commodity. Due to the success of the Dutch navy at sea, the Dutch were the original tea drinkers of Europe and therefore passed this on to their settlements in the new world, thereby making Americans tea-drinkers in the long run. Tea infiltrated English society after this time as well, causing the new afternoon tea break in England, later including bread and pastries with tea. Coffee houses in England were so named because of the original introduction to coffee that had occurred before the knowledge of tea; however, tea did become the major beverage served at these locations and remains as such today. England’s decision to tax tea in the 18th century on the American colonists was the breaking point of the American Revolution and thus caused the colonists to openly rebel and purchase tea from Dutch imports. This major American historical event remains an integral part of the founding of our nation and revolves back to the original Chinese introduction of tea. The Chinese have led us to discover the more peaceful quality that tea has to offer, and have since let us picture ourselves as partaking in this harmonious tradition that has been going on for thousands of years.