Manna stopped falling from heaven long long time back. But God in his infinite wisdom tests human creativity by making fruits and leaves to fall, near the chosen few. The message was not lost on Sir Issac Newton when he discerned the theory of gravitation from a falling apple. Had he not been the chosen one, the falling apple would not even deserve a glance. Now let us imagine a Chinese emperor resting in his royal garden, a gust of wind drops an innocuous leaf in his tumbler of hot water, which he was about to drink and that tiny leaf makes the water turn green.
What would you or I or for that matter, any person do under the circumstances ? I can tell for myself, I would just throw out the water, lest it upset my stomach.
But the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, the chosen one, took a sip. The sweetness and bitterness of the green drink refreshed him. This is how the tea was discovered or supposedly, way back in or around 2700 B.C ! Whether this legend of Shen Nung was apocryphal remains uncertain.
But one thing is certain, that the common tea plant, Camellia sinensis had been around with us from time immemorial. It was perhaps a chance discovery like many other important discoveries of the world, which influenced the human society. The wise Chinese believed in its medicinal values and as a strong currency for trade but their tea secrets were not known.
The advent of sturdy ships of European merchants who were scouring the sea routes for new products to trade, brought tea in the limelight when it reached the shores of Europe. It took a couple of centuries of trade wars, bloodshed, intrigue and finally a cloak and dagger operation of an English horticulturist, prudentially named, Robert Fortune to conduct an early industrial espionage on tea cultivation in 1848.
Disguised as a Chinese merchant he traveled around the Chinese countryside which were off limit to foreigners. He garnered soil samples, tea cuttings and processing techniques. This enabled the British to establish large commercial tea plantations in India. This was the major breakthrough for the tea trade. The near monopoly of the Chinese tea was gone and it was on its way to greater heights as the second most popular drink after water.
As a cost effective item of daily consumption this beverage has no parallel. It invigorates millions daily. It’s medicinal and healing properties are a bonus. It’s effect as a major employment provider is worth mentioning. Direct and indirect employment in tea plantations and trade, runs into millions across the globe. No other product can come anywhere near to its employment potentials. In fact, many an economy draws sustenance from it by way of tea export.
Tea’s effect on social behavior is well chronicled in English society and mirrored in literature. Agnes Reppiler sums it up beautifully, “Tea had come as a deliverer to a land that called for deliverance; a land of beef and ale, of heavy eating and abundant drunkenness; of gray skies and harsh winds; of strong nerved , stout-purposed, slow-thinking men and women. Above all, a land of sheltered homes and warm firesides – firesides that were waiting – waiting, for the bubbling kettle and the fragrant breath of tea”.
Lastly, who can deny it’s role as a catalyst for the American Revolution. Therefore, much as we may find it difficult to believe the story of the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, let us accept it for the sake of heavenly tea, a cup of life where liquid wisdom is brewed. For without it, man would remain a slave to coffee and the human society would be poorer, to say the least.