The Story of Tea
In ancient times, tea was not known outside China. Rumors of its existence had reached the wise and the unwise of other countries, and each tried to find out what it was in accordance with what he wanted or what he thought it should be.
The King of Inja (here) sent an embassy to China, and they were given tea by the Chinese Emperor. But, since they saw that the peasants drank it too, they concluded that it was not fit for their royal master: and, furthermore, that the Chinese Emperor was trying to deceive them, passing off some other substance for the celestial drink.
The greatest philosopher of Anja (there) collected all the information he could about tea, and concluded that it must be a substance which existed but rarely, and was of another order than anything then known. For was it not referred to as being a herb, a water, green, black, sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet?
In the countries of Koshish and Beinem, for centuries the people tested all the herbs they could find. Many were poisoned, all were disappointed. For nobody had brought the tea-plant to their lands, and thus they could not find it. They also drank all the liquids which they could find, but to no avail.
In the territory of Mazhab (Sectarianism) a small bag of tea was carried in procession before the people as they went on their religious observances. Nobody thought of tasting it: indeed, nobody knew how. All were convinced that the tea itself had a magical quality. A wise man said, "Pour it upon boiling water, ye ignorant ones!" They hanged him, because to do as he said, according to their belief, would mean the destruction of their tea. This showed that he was an enemy of their religion.
Before he died, he told his secret to a few, and they managed to obtain some tea and drink it secretly. When anyone asked, "What are you doing?" they answered, "It is medicine which we take for a certain disease."
And so it was throughtout the world. Tea had actually been seen growing by some, who did not recognise it. It has been given to others to drink, but they thought it the beverage of the common people. It had been in the possesion of others, and they worshipped it. Outside China, only a few people actually drank it, and those covertly.
Then came a man of knowledge, who said to the merchants of tea, and the drinkers of tea, and to others, "He who tastes, knows. He who tastes not, knows not. Instead of talking about the celestial beverage, say nothing, but offer it at your banquets. Those who like it will ask for more. Those who do not, will show that they are not fitted to be tea-drinkers. Close the shop of argument and mystery, and open the teahouse of experience!"
The tea was brought from one stage to another along the Silk Road, and whenever a merchant carrying a jade or gems or silk would pause to rest, he would make tea, and offer it to such people as were near him, whether they were aware of the repute of tea or not. This was the begining of the Chaikhanas, the teahouses which were established all the way from Peking to Bokhara and Samarkand. And those who tasted knew.
At first, mark well, it was only the great and the pretended men of wisdom who sought the celestial drink and who also exclaimed, "But this is only dried leaves!" or "Why do you boil water, stranger, when all I want is the celestial drink?" or "How do I know what this is? Prove it to me. Besides the color of the liquid is not golden, but ochre!"
When the truth was known, and when the tea was brought for all who would taste, the roles were reversed, and the only people who said things like the great and intelligent had said were the absolute fools. And such is the case to this day.
Note: Drinks of all kinds have been used by almost all people as allegories connected with the search for higher knowledge. Coffee, the most recent of social drinks, was discovered by the dervish sheikh Abu el-Hasan Shadhili, at Mocha in Arabia. The tale above is by Hamadani (died 1140) the teacher of the great Yasavi of Turkestan. It is in the book, "Tales of the Dervishes."
More about tea:
Origin of Tea Drinking
Tea Drinking in Taiwan
Chinese Tea Ceremony
About Green Tea
Japanese Green Tea
The Tea Page