There are many discussions about the question “What country tea originated from?” on the internet. In fact, this is my favorite question to ask an Uber driver. Unfortunately, I’m often confounded by the answers I get, which include India, Japan, China, Persia, and even England! Tea’s origin is rarely explored properly due to various factors. These include barriers of language, culture gaps, lack of authentic records, and lack of tenacity to trace the long ancient roots of Camellia Sinensis. 

Here’s the real deal. Tea originated in China. And this is only the beginning of an epic story lasting thousands of years, captured beautifully in the 9 Dragons Tea documentary.  

About Shennong

About five thousand years ago, according to Chinese legend, a divine farmer named Shennong 神農 (traditional Chinese) or 神农 (simplified Chinese) discovered tea trees in the wild. He then boiled the tea leaves into a tonic as medicine. Shennong taught the Chinese people how to cultivate tea.  

Revered in the Chinese culture as a divine emperor, Shennong was credited for teaching the ancient Chinese people husbandry and agriculture. A venerated sage of plants, Shennong invented Chinese herbal medicine.

Through the millennia, tea plantations flourished in the southern regions of China. Traditionally, Chinese people produce six types of tea: White tea, Yellow tea, Green tea, Oolong, Black tea (known as Red tea in China), and Dark tea (Hei Cha in Chinese.)

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In modern days, Shennong is like Yoda, Groot, and the wisecracking astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon in “The Martian”) rolled into a single person. See for yourself: Here’s Watney in action.

Origin of Pu Erh Tea: World's Oldest Tea Trees

Historically, wild tea trees producing Pu erh tea (Dark tea category) have grown in Yunnan and Sichuan, China’s southwestern provinces. Some of these phenomenal wild tea trees are more than 2,000 years old. 

pu erh tea old tea trees wild tea trees with tea pickers

Pu-erh has always been popular among the Chinese people because of its ample health benefits. Thanks to the rising tea trend, Pu-erh has gathered a fast-growing following in the West. Collectors hunt for high-quality aged Pu-erh and are willing to pay exorbitant sums for this treasure. High-grade Pu-erh tea brews golden elixir to dark crimson color. In wine-speak, a well-aged Pu-erh is like a French cabernet sauvignon.

Divine earth held in a cup. Pu-erh tea comes in the form of tea cakes.

pu erh tea in cups with loose leaf

Chinese Civilization Is Steeped In Tea

Since ancient times, tea and China have been intimately linked. Tea symbolizes China. The world’s origin of tea culture, Chinese methods of growing tea, and drinking tea represent art and commerce. A way of life for thousands of years. 

The Chinese tea culture is so deep, rich, and encompassing that this American phrase sums up its worth nicely,

“I wouldn’t trade it for all the tea in China.” 

7 Chinese Household Essentials

Chinese culture has long considered tea one of the seven essential items for the home.


Firewood , Rice , Oil , Salt, Sauce, Vinegar, and Tea

Spiritual Origin of Tea In China

chinese tea history wuyishan culture Buddhist Monk Standing In Front of Mother Temple

Tea has deep spiritual roots in China. The monks were the first to cultivate tea in the southern regions, where the tea plants thrive in the warm climate.

For the monks, tea-making was the path to enlightenment.

From the monks, tea-marking spilled over to the people.

The art of tea cultivation, processing, and tea-tasting was honed over thousands of years and passed down from generation to generation. The simple cup is filled with hard work, artistry, history, and mystery. And above all–love.

Millions of lifetimes of learning are infused in a pot of Chinese tea.

How Tea Spread Within China

As the art of tea-making and tea-drinking evolved over the major dynasties, this southerner’s drink spread to northern parts of China, where the capital was located.

By the Tang dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.), tea had become China’s national beverage, thanks in part to Lu Yu’s book the “Classic Of Tea” or “Chajing” 茶經 (traditional Chinese) 茶经 (Simplified Chinese).

Published in 780 A.D., Lu Yu is the world’s first author on tea. The ancient tea sage pioneered the concept of “Cha Do” or “Chado” 茶道 (Chinese), encapsulating aesthetics, tea-drinking etiquette such as using proper teaware and spirituality, from cultivation to processing to tasting.

In simple terms, the practice of tea is a way of life. Chado means The Way Of Tea.

Lu Yu tea sage history of china tea culture

Ever wonder why tea is also called “Cha”? Tea originated as a southerner’s drink in China. The primary regional dialect is Cantonese, in which tea is called “Cha” 茶.

Along the southern coast of China, where famous tea was produced, the local dialects for tea are commonly called “te.”

So depending on the Chinese region where tea flowed out from, an anglicized version of the local dialect came along with the drink. “Te” became Tea in English. “Cha” was adopted throughout Asia, including Japan.   

We’ve digressed. Let’s get back to Lu Yu and his Chado from the Tang Dynasty. Japan adopted this term more than seven hundred years later. By combining Lu Yu’s Chado, and the Green tea drinking custom from the Chinese Yuan Dynasty, the Japanese Tea Ceremony was born. Thanks to the global tea-lovers appreciation for Chado, the art of Whipped tea (tea-latte served in the streets of China nearly a thousand years ago) is preserved, now known as Matcha Green tea.

The history of tea and tea drinking evolution makes for a fascinating subject. 

Until the mid-19th century, China was the only country on the planet that knew how to make tea, from cultivation to manufacturing to tasting. So how did tea spread to India, Sri Lanka, and Africa?

This question brews a fascinating story, with long-buried secrets unearthed in the documentary film, 9 DRAGONS TEA. 

chinese tea history historical image chinese tea grinder tang dynasty

Ancient tea grinder from the Tang Dynasty. Courtesy of the Famen Temple, China.

How Tea Spread Outside of China

From the 17th century through the mid 19th century, China tea was such a hot commodity in Europe that China dedicated the Port of Canton (today Guangzhou) as its official port for the tea trade.

The Dutch East India Company first imported Chinese tea to Europe in the early 1500s, followed by the British in the late 1600s.

The United States was late to the tea party and started importing tea directly from China in the 19th century. Tea became the dominant Chinese imported goods, growing from 1/3 to 2/3 of total imports from 1822 to 1860. 


Lu Yu tea sage history of china tea culture

Ancient tea grinder from the Tang Dynasty. Courtesy of the Famen Temple, China.

9-Dragons-Tea-Art Book


You’ll love our new art book! A labor of love, this artbook showcases glorious images, taking you on a journey through ancient tea rituals and how these practices bring calmness, mindfulness, and tranquility for you.

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