Once upon a time in ancient China, there was a wise and benevolent emperor who went by the name of Shen Nong. The Emperor took a great interest in science, and would always take the time to listen to the newest advances that people in his court would present to him.
When the Emperor heard that water became more hygienic when boiled, he quickly sent out an edict that required all drinking water to be boiled prior to consumption.
One day, while he and his court were travelling about the countryside, surveying the outlying regions of his kingdom, the Emperor decided to rest for the night. In preparation for dinner, the servants began to boil water. While the water was boiling, however, some dried leaves fell from a bush into the pots, and the water took on a strange, brown hue.
The servants were going to throw out the water, but the Emperor took an interest in the liquid, and tasted it. He found it very refreshing, and decided that he should like to take some of these plants back to his capital, so that he might have more of the drink.
The popularity of tea spread throughout all of China, and over the centuries, it became an integral part of Chinese culture. In 800 A.D., Lu Yu wrote a book on tea called the Ch'a Ching. The book discusses the many methods of tea cultivation and preparation which had developed in China over the several thousand years since the brew was first discovered.
The Zen Buddhist priest Yeisei was the first to bring tea to Japan, seeing the value of tea as an aid to meditation. Like in China, the Japanese Emperor took an immediate interest in the drink and, through his sponsorship, tea became popular in his country, as well.
Tea eventually became so important to the Japanese and their culture, that Chado (lit. The Way of Tea) was created. The Japanese Tea Ceremony is among the highest forms of art in Japanese culture, and it takes a lifetime of practice to perfect.
Tea first came to Europe in the 16th Century, when Portuguese traders began establishing trade routes into the Far East. Tea was nowhere near as popular in the West as it had been in the East at the time of its discovery, but this is mainly due to the high cost of importing tea at the time.
Eventually, as Eastern culture swept through the West as what was chic among the aristocracy, tea, too, became popular.
This is the story of tea's trek across the globe.
For further reading, investigate the John Company, the East India Company, afternoon tea, scones, crumpets, coffee houses, tea gardens, the Boston Tea Party, the Opium Wars, Tea Plantations, iced tea, tea bag, English breakfast tea, Irish breakfast tea, Caravan tea, Earl Grey tea, Darjeeling tea, Oolong tea, Green tea, Keemun tea, teapots, Ikkyu, Murata Shuko, Sen-no Rikkyu and how to drink tea.