Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Origins of Mr. T(ea).

Most of you have probably noticed that I have not posted in a while. I could give you excuses, but I think that you're probably ultimately not interested in excuses, and besides, they aren't even all exciting. So, I pretty much blew that new years resolution all to hell, didn't I? Oh well. Those are just creative ways to lie to yourself anyway. But, for all your waiting, you're going to get something interesting at worthwhile to read. At least I think so. And if you don't, feel free to print it off and use it as toilet paper or cat box liner or something. Whatever you wish. So, without further ado, allow me to introduce you to my latest article, "The Origins of Mr. T(ea).

Tea. What is it? Where does it come from? And how the hell did it get such a funny name? Today I will try to answer those questions, using a mixture of things which I am absolutely not qualified to talk about, including mythology, tradition, linguistics, and some other stuff that may or may not be really cool. By the way, if you think my title is terrible, you'll just have to deal with it. I'm just that way.

Question one. What is tea?

Tea is defined as the usable portion of the plant Camilla Sinensis, and the liquid made from those portions. As a beverage, it is aromatic and slightly bitter, and highly entrenched in Asian and English customs and lifestyle. As a plant, it is a short shrub with medium sized leaves that differ in appearance at different levels of maturity. As a dried herb (leaves), it takes a needle-like shape and has a fragile and brittle texture. Goddamn. I really hate defining things. I never do it justice.

Question two. Where does it come from?

Well, you see, first you get a seed, which is a whole bunch of genetic information in a tiny little package, and then you plant it, and then providing that it gets an adequate amount of nutrition, water, and sunlight, and remains within the proper temperature range, it will eventually develop into a mature plant. If you have the right type of seed, it would form into a tea plant, and if you picked the leaves of at just the right amount of time, dried them, and brewed them in water, then you would have some tea. That's where tea comes from.


What you want to see here is how tea was discovered as a beverage, and that is exactly what I am going to attempt to give you. That's how nice I am.

The discovery is supposed to have occurred in ancient China more than five thousand years ago. As the story goes, Emperor Shen Nung, an early emperor, creative scientist, and appreciator of the arts, had many ideas that were ahead of his time, one of those being the requirement that all drinking water be boiled for antiseptic and hygienic purposes. One day while visiting a distant part of his domain, he and his court stopped for a rest. He ordered some servants to boil some water for the court to drink. As the water was boiling, some dried leaves from a neighboring bush fell into the water, and a brown liquid resulted. Being a scientist, the emperor found the liquid interesting, drank a bit of it, and found that it had a very refreshing and pleasant flavor. So, according to legend, tea was created.

To this day, this myth remains so practical and reasonable of an explanation that a good number of mythologists believe that it might be very close to the way the events actually took place, which events are now long lost in the vortex of the past.

Question three. How the hell did it get such a funny name?

The actual word "tea" has it's origins in China, in the Minnan dialect, which was spoken by the people living in the area around the port of Amoy in southern China. Around AD 350, both the plant and the beverage were called "tu." This was adopted and altered a bit to become "tea" or "te" by such languages as Danish, French, German, Spanish, Polish, and others.

Another very popular word for it is "cha," which appears in languages such as Japanese, Portugese, Korean, Thai, Swahili, Hindi, and others. This originates in China as well, but mainly in the southern and the norther regions where Mandarin and Cantonese dialects are spoken. It is thought by some that "cha" was coined around 780 AD in the T'ang Dynasty, when Lu Yu published the book Cha Ching regarding the beverage. "Cha" is also sometimes used in English as a slang term.

So there you have it. Now you know what tea is, where it came from, and how the hell it got it's funny name. I could have written a great deal more regarding the history of tea, but then what the hell would I write about later?

So, I hope you enjoy this bit of information. I know I enjoyed writing it. And if you didn't enjoy it, please don't complain. The world already has too many complainers.

Over and Out,
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