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History of Green Tea

In ancient China, long before tea was consumed as a drink, it was probably eaten as an herb to treat illness. A Chinese medical book written in 2737 B.C. contains the earliest known written reference to tea and refers to it as a health aid. With the growth of Buddhism and its prohibition on drinking alcohol, tea became more popular. During the Sui dynasty (581-618), the custom of drinking tea, which had been limited to the aristocracy and Buddhist monks, began to spread to other classes. In 780 Lu Yu wrote the Ch’a Ching (Book of Tea), which later formed the basis of the Japanese tea ceremony.

Later, tea took on religious overtones when Japanese monks visiting China brought the plant back with them and grew it on temple grounds. The Zen priest Eisai (1141-1215) is credited with introducing the custom of tea drinking to Japan in the Kamakura period (1192-1333). In his book Kissa yojoki (Health Benefits of Tea), he extols the properties of tea as a miraculous medicine.

In fifteenth century Japan, tea became such a revered beverage that a whole culture developed around it, culminating in the tea ceremony (cha-no-yu). The drinking of tea became a highly structured recreation centred on such aesthetic and philosophical concepts as wabi (austere beauty) and sabi (tranquility). Eventually the tea ceremony became synonymous with cultural refinement, and court nobles and the wealthy frequently participated in the ritual. It was only much later that the custom of tea drinking spread to the average person and tea became an indispensable daily beverage.

In 1606, the Dutch East India Company imported the first shipment of Chinese tea to Europe. The first export of tea from Japan was in 1610 by the Dutch East India Company from Hirado, Nagasaki.

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