The origin of green tea is steeped in tradition and mysticism. Different tea books report different sources for the discovery of tea but most agree on the date 2700 BC. The folklore is somewhat consistent whether if it was monk, emperor or scholar sitting under a tree, a tea leaf fell into a cup of simmering water and tea was discovered.
Tea (originally referred to as tu and later in the 2nd century BC became cha the same word and character the Chinese still use today) was touted for its medicinal properties including maintaining health, concentration, alertness and alleviating depression. Tea’s popularity grew rapidly throughout China and in the 5th century tea was traded to Turkey (in compressed bricks to retain freshness) igniting China’s hold on the vast tea empire to emerge.
The Golden Age of Tea was during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-906). Tea was consumed for pleasure not merely a medicinal drink anymore. This is the era when tea houses started to pop up throughout China. Regulations in the consistencies of the cultivation process starting in this period and an elaborate ceremony for serving tea was developed. And we have our first book written about tea, Classic of Tea by Lu Yu commissioned by merchants to push their product.
Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) started the tradition of grinding tea into a powder and whisking it into a frothy liquid. What we now associate with Japanese Matcha Powder. Prior to this dynasty records show tea was introduced to Japan in A.D. 730 by the Chinese and eventually seeds for cultivation were planted.
Initially all tea exports were either Gunpowder (green tea rolled into pellets to retain freshness ) or as compressed bricks until the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644) developed black tea and floral scented teas - rose, jasmine, and chrysanthemum were added as layering agents to black and green teas. Black tea is produced by fermenting green tea leaves and preventing decomposition by baking the copper red leaves to retain its ability to travel long distances. Fairly quickly, black tea became more fashionable in Europe and yet gunpowder retains its popularity on the old trade route - Northern Africa still blends their mint (nana) tea with gunpowder green tea.
Today green tea is produced in China, Japan, Sri Lanka, India, and Kenya. Statistics from 2005 indicate America consumes more than 50 billion servings of tea per year. Mostly black tea but the green tea market in America is growing exponentially. And thanks to the Chinese, there are tea houses popping up all over America too, 1300 years later. Do a search for NYC Tea Shops for new one emerging in and around New York City or near your town.