The beginning of tea is so old, and so far before anyone sought to properly record anything, that it has become as myth; no one is sure whether this is the way tea’s discovery occurred or not. Regardless, it is nonetheless one of the most accepted explanations available, and thus remains prominent in almost all tea history books as well as Chinese tradition.
The tale begins with the Emperor Shen-Nung. This particular emperor liked his water to be as clean as possible – something that wasn’t always easy to obtain in his time – and so would order his servants to boil his water before it was drunk. Emperor Shen-Nung was quite happy to drink it hot, and would do so on a regular basis. All of his subjects were also instructed to boil their water.
The legend has it that Shen-Nung had taken his army on an expedition to a relatively distant location, and had stopped to rest for a while. Obediently, one of his servants began the preparation of a cup of boiled water, failing to notice the stray, wild tea leaf fall into the drink he was preparing. The servant also failed still to notice that the water had become brown in colour, and served it to the emperor anyway.
Shen-Nung then proceeded to drink the infusion, and with surprise and delight found it to be a very refreshing drink. He christened the new concoction “cha” (tea, in Chinese), and was the first to spread knowledge of it among his homeland.
During these early days, only green tea (arguably tea’s most traditional form) was produced.