Green tea is one of the most popular tea varieties around the world and has been for thousands of years. It’s full of health benefits and has a mild flavor that even tea’s biggest critics find enjoyable. With a tea this widely loved, it’s no wonder that some may want to know more.
Green tea as a beverage has its roots in China during the Tang Dynasty. However its use can be tracked centuries before that time. Green tea is an ancient beverage that is part of the cultural and culinary history of many different countries.
In tea-producing countries, tea is as integral to life as food. In this article, you’ll learn more about the history of green tea from its start in ancient China to modern day.
History of Green Tea in China
In China, the use and cultivation of green tea goes back thousands of years. While there is no precise way to know exactly when green tea was first cultivated, the following is what we know from historic records.
Mythological Discovery of Green Tea
Legend assigns the discovery of tea to mythological emperor Shennong, who is said to have discovered tea in 28th century BC. Shennong was sitting under a Camellia tree boiling a pot of water to drink. Some leaves fell from the tree into the boiling water, creating the first ever pot of tea. We’ll never know if this is true, but since Shennong is considered to be the father of Chinese agriculture, I’ll stick with it.
During the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD), written records refer to the cultivation of green tea. However this wasn’t green tea for drinking, but for medicinal purposes. The leaves were often used to make salves, and they were sometimes chewed on for tooth pain.
The Tang Dynasty (618 AD to 907 AD) is considered by most to be the golden age of Chinese arts and culture. It’s during this time that green tea became a popular drink and an important part of Chinese culture.
“Cha Jing” or “The Classic of Tea”, the first written account of tea culture was published by Lu Yu in 760 AD. This short but comprehensive work, covering ten chapters, discusses everything from the mythological origins of tea, history, cultivation, preparation to tea culture.
Green Tea in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Green tea has been used medicinally in China for thousands of years. In traditional Chinese medicine, it was considered important to find a balance in the body’s needs and qualities. Green tea was seen as a way to lower the fire in a person suffering from inflammation.
History of Green Tea in Japan
Green tea was first introduced to Japan in the 8th century by monks who picked up the love of the brew while studying Buddhism in China. While first only enjoyed by the religious class, it soon spread to royalty and the elite.
Japanese farmers began growing green tea in Kyoto during the 12th century. During the 16th century, the process of shading the Camellia Sinensis plants from sunlight began, which was the origin of matcha and gyokuro.
Japanese Tea Ceremony
The Japanese tea ceremony is an integral part of Japanese culture. It was first documented by Rikyu Sen in the late 16th century.
Green Tea in Modern Times
While green tea has its origin in ancient times, it has become a part of today’s food and drink around the world. And while initially, only the religious, royal and elite had access to green tea, now it’s available everywhere from high end tea ceremonies to beverage coolers in gas stations.
Today green tea is found in boba tea drinks, canned iced tea, and pretty much any grocery store. Matcha powder, made from green tea, is found not only in tea ceremonies, but in baked goods like matcha snickerdoodles, and frosty treats like matcha milkshakes.
Green Tea has a Rich and Varied History
From its mythical beginnings with Emperor Shennong, to today’s matcha desserts, green tea has a long and celebrated history, no less important today than thousands of years ago.