tea-leaves

Is This True, Not Or Just A Crock (#20)

Aside from water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage with a history steeped in rituals about the simple task of boiling water and dropping leaves into the pot.

According to myth, the emperor Shen Nung of China, who scholars say was well versed in science and the arts, ordered all of his subjects to boil water before drinking. Some historians believe this was based on a knowledge of medicine and the life cycle of germs. Others speculate that, “while the emperor was resting one day after traveling with an elaborate entourage, leaves from a nearby bush fell into the cauldron of boiling water being prepared for him. The monarch, noticing the flavourful aroma and dark color, ordered his food tasters to sample the drink. When the emperor finally sipped it himself, convinced that the tasters were not poisoned, he said ‘this is good.'”

It wasn’t until the Ch’a Ching was written in 800 A. D. by the renowned Lu Yu, an orphan raised by scholarly Buddhist monks in one of China’s finest monasteries. His training as an observer reflected a Zen Buddhist upbringing and led to the first comprehensive book written about tea and its evolution in culture. He recorded the various methods of it’s cultivation and preparation in ancient China that was eventually exported to imperial Japan by Zen missionaries, projecting Lu to near sainthood within his own lifetime.

Although this discovery was a step towards the development of herbal knowledge and the infancy of pharmaceuticals, Lu Yu still considered his life a failure and without meaning. Perhaps it was the realization that in all its glory, tea is nothing more then water with variable solvents open to interpretation when the liquid is poured from the cup and the clumps of leaves left behind reveal clues about the life cycle of whoever was drinking from the cup. This may have also been the origin of reading tea leaves, a form of divination.