The history of tea spreads across multiple cultures over the span of thousands of years. Tea originated in southwest China, likely the Yunnan region during the Shang dynasty as a medicinal drink. An early credible record of tea drinking dates to the 3rd century AD, in a medical text written by Hua Tuo. It first became known to western civilization through Portuguese priests and merchants in China during the early 16th century. Drinking tea became popular in Britain during the 17th century. The British introduced tea production, as well as tea consumption, to India, in order to compete with the Chinese monopoly on tea.
In one popular Chinese legend, Emperor Shennong was drinking a bowl of just boiled water because of a decree that his subjects must boil water before drinking it. Some time around 2737 BC, a few leaves were blown from a nearby tree into his water, changing the color and taste. The emperor took a sip of the brew and was pleasantly surprised by its flavor and restorative properties. A variant of the legend tells that the emperor tested the medical properties of various herbs on himself, some of them poisonous, and found tea to work as an antidote. Shennong is also mentioned in Lu Yu's famous early work on the subject, The Classic of Tea. A similar Chinese legend states that the god of agriculture would chew the leaves, stems, and roots of various plants to discover medicinal herbs. If he consumed a poisonous plant, he would chew tea leaves to counteract the poison.
A legend dates back to the Tang dynasty. In the legend, Bodhidharma, the founder of Chan Buddhism, accidentally fell asleep after meditating in front of a wall for nine years. He woke up in such disgust at his weakness that he cut off his eyelids. They fell to the ground and took root, growing into tea bushes. Another version of the story has Gautama Buddha in place of Bodhidharma.
The Chinese have consumed tea for thousands of years. The earliest physical evidence known to date, found in 2016, comes from the mausoleum of Emperor Jing of Han in Xi'an, indicating that tea was drunk by Han dynasty emperors as early as the 2nd century BC. The samples were identified as tea from the genus Camellia particularly via mass spectrometry, and written records suggest that it may have been drunk earlier. People of the Han dynasty used tea as medicine (though the first use of tea as a stimulant is unknown). China is considered to have the earliest records of tea consumption, with possible records dating back to the 10th century BC. Note however that the current word for tea in Chinese only came into use in the 8th century AD, there are therefore uncertainties as to whether the older words used are the same as tea. The word tu appears in Shijing and other ancient texts to signify a kind of "bitter vegetable", and it is possible that it referred to several different plants, such as sow thistle, chicory, or smartweed, including tea. In the Chronicles of Huayang, it was recorded that the Ba people in Sichuan presented tu to the Zhou king. The state of Ba and its neighbour Shu were later conquered by the Qin, and according to the 17th century scholar Gu Yanwu who wrote in Ri Zhi Lu: "It was after the Qin had taken Shu that they learned how to drink tea." (Wikipedia)