Some plants are ancient companions of humanity. They have become so connected with what it is to be a human, to think like a human, to experience like a human, and to be a vital human, that they are part of the human story itself.
Of these plants there is one called tea. It so happened that in 2737 B.C., long before your grandfather’s grandfather was born, there was an emperor. He was an emperor in China, and while he was not too concerned with making China great again, he was very concerned with herbalism, health, science, meditation, and art.
He was sitting on a red embroidered cushion, casually contemplating how to improve and better humanity in the southern forested mountain regions of Yunnan China. It had been a long day of resolving disputes between feuding families and he was tired, but the work of being an enlightened emperor is endless, much as our work is today.
We are like emperors today. Our houses are palatial, our beds our soft, we have endless entertainment at our fingertips. We can travel great distances at a whim. We have access to all the knowledge we desire to learn. We are very busy keeping our families and friends happy.
The emperor we are talking about though is named Shen Nong. He was so great, he is considered one of the three founding emperor’s of culture by the Chinese and is credited with the mind blowing inventions of the hoe, the ax, the plow and irrigation. Inventing the ax must have been a little like inventing the cell phone, just a total game changer.
So he was sitting there 4755 years ago just a little sleepy. He ordered his servant to make a little kettle of boiling water to drink, Shen could refresh his mind and spirit. It so happened that the local spirits were feeling generous and they created a brief wind which rattle the branches of the Camellia Sinensis tree above the pot. Three leaves, standing for wisdom, loyalty, and energy, fell into the pot. There they boiled for a minute before Shen Nong noticed them.
Being an herbalist, he was excited to see what the concoction would do. Being wise, he only took the smallest sip. The flavor was pleasant, his tongue wished for more. He drank a larger sip, his throat felt warm, his eyes widened. He drank a gulp, bliss filled his mind, his spirit became alert. He finished the cup, his energy was strong and vital, his clarity was like that of a 24 year old man.
Legend has it, this is how tea came to first touch the tongue of a human. Ever since then, it has been used by countless generations to revitalize the spirit, focus the mind, heal the body, and soothe the heart. It is a drink that benefits and stimulates thought and conversation without creating excessive anxiety or mood swings. Low in caffeine compared to coffee and yet high in L-theanine, which stimulates the production of GABA in the brain, it is the perfect energy drink. Since you can buy it bulk, cook it loose leaf, and serve multiple infusions with every leaf, it is the most ecological and affordable health drink outside of water.
In future articles we will look deeply at the health benefits, terroir driven and production driven flavor profiles, and more of the rich myth that surrounds this plant and drink. Until then, enjoy your tea.