Tea is one of the world's oldest beverages. So old, in fact, that stories of its origins have become indistinguishable from the myths that surround it.
The Chinese believe that tea was discovered by Emperor Shen-Nung, the legendary emperor and founder of Chinese medicine, in 2737 BC. A firm advocate in hygienic precautions, the emperor insisted that his drinking water be boiled before consumption.
One day, while he was doing just that during a hunting trip, a few leaves from a nearby bush blew into the bubbling water. The leaves imparted to the water such an exquisite and delicate aroma that the emperor was tempted to sip it. He felt so refreshed and invigorated by the beverage that he introduced it to his court. Thus tea was discovered.
The Indians attribute the discovery of tea to the saintly Darma Bodhivista, a Buddhist monk who had devoted seven years of his life to sleepless contemplation of the Buddha. In the first year, he was assailed by drowsiness. In desperation, he plucked a few leaves from a nearby bush and started chewing on them.
The leaves, which turned out to be from a wild tea bush, immediately revived his energy and the monk went on to complete his self-imposed vigil.
The Japanese tell a different version of the tale. When Darma felt the urge to sleep, they say, the saint immediately tore off his heavy eyelids and tossed them away on the ground. To his amazement, two handsome tea bushes sprang up where his eyelids fell!