Sordid and Holy Exploits
Like most major discoveries, the invention of tea was an accident.
The history of tea reads like a myth from The Hero of a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell:
• Tea went on a journey and traveled the world.
• Tea has companions.
• Tea altered history—politics, commerce, spiritual traditions as well as the growth of nations in addition to people’s well-being, fame and fortune.
• Tea has transformed, yet remains the same.
• Tea is personal and universal.
• Tea has started wars and ended them.
• Tea is both sacred and ordinary.
• Tea has been used as money, for negotiations, to buy a wife and as a sacred tool in monasteries.
• Tea is for welcoming and saying goodbye.
• Tea has provided meaningfulness and stability, social connection and comforting solace.
• Tea is refreshing and healing, stimulating and calming.
• Tea overcame many challenges to reach you.
It should not be a surprise then that a substance of this magnitude has many birth legends. But, China, Japan, Korea and India have finally come to agree on one thing: tea was discovered in China about 5000 years ago by Shen Nong.
Shen Nong is the acclaimed father of agriculture and medicine in China. Shen Nong named tea ‘cha' which is the same pronunciation for "checking for poisons". One myth says, "He tasted herbs and plants all day noting their effects." When he tasted tea, he believed it checked for poisons as it made its way through his intestines. In effect, it purified him of toxins.
Another story says Shen Nong was traveling, when he stopped to boiled water to sanitize it. Leaves from a nearby bush blew in the steaming water. This new brew created an appealing aroma. Upon tasting the tea, he found it delicious and stimulating.
Out of facts and legends, another less exciting story can be seen emerging. In southwest China 5000 years ago, there was a tribe of people called Shen Nong. The Shen Nong macerated herbs, plants and leaves to soften them. It was a common practice to extract the nutrients. Edentulism (loss of teeth) was also common. Obviously, after the loss of molars, chewing many of the leaves and plants becomes difficult, if not impossible.
The next best thing to the dissolving qualities of saliva and maceration is water and a mortar and pedestal. Simple observations would have shown that warm water extracts faster and better than cold. Tea must have been extraordinarily easier to consume as a warm liquid than chewing and sucking on it during the day.
Regardless of tea's creation story, all is conjecture. Tea is not mentioned in writing until 3rd century AD in a Chinese medicinal text written by Hua T'o; far after tea's discovery. By this time, the legends of the birth of tea had already begun to develop.
Written records or not, tea myths still abound even today. Many tea writers, blind to anthropological realities, have tea arriving into some countries considerably later than it actually occurred. These stories are often dependent upon biased historical claims rather than on science and evidence.
Throughout tea's travels, tea has remained ecumenical. Tea is still innocent of the drama, abuse, bloodshed, and espionage associated with its history. It is highly unusual that some cultures did not demonize tea for all the hell it caused among people. But tea also continues to be steeped in adoration and honor from the individual and collective lives it has changed for the better.
She wiped her hands on the chef coat and then gripped the handles of the marble rolling pin. They felt like ice against her hands, while Quint’s breathe felt like a summer breeze on the back of her neck. He said, “Okay, now start at the center and roll toward the edge, keeping the pressure even.”
She started, then inexplicably froze. His hands came down on hers as he leaned over her, their bodies spooned. Her heart began to race. His cheek touched hers, his mouth near her ear, his voice husky.
“Keep the pressure even. Like this. That’s right.”
He leaned into her and away from her with each extended roll, his body heat like a comforter she wanted to snuggle. She didn’t mean to nuzzle his head, but she did, and the next thing she knew...
“Oh, God, Callee,” Quint groaned, spinning her into his arms, his mouth finding hers, his body meeting hers. A fiery rain of irresistible sensations washed through her, burning away her resistance.
She kissed him with all the need she’d suppressed for months and months and tore at his chef’s coat as he tore at hers, their lips locked in an ever-deepening reunion. His hands were in her hair, hers were in his. He tasted of red wine and Thai food and smelled even better. Her sweater vanished, followed by her bra, and his shirt, his belt, his jeans. He pulled her naked torso to his, eliciting a gasp of pure pleasure at the ached-for feel of his body. Her nipples were rock hard against his chest, his arousal against her thighs.
She didn’t remember kicking off her boots, or her jeans, or her panties. Every breath, every touch, raised her higher and higher toward the heavens, and she didn’t want it to ever stop.
Quint swept the parchment paper, pie crust, flour, and rolling pin from the island. The ensuing crash brought Callee to her senses with a bang. Dear God, what was she doing? She shoved against Quint’s shoulders, tore her lips from his and pushed him away, panting. “No. No. I don’t want this.”
“Could’ve fooled me.” His words came out in a breathless rasp.
Callee gathered her clothes, tugging them on, humiliation and embarrassment scorching her insides. She glanced at the mess on the floor. It was just like their marriage. It had started out as something wonderful and ended up thrown away. She left him standing there, naked, aroused, and making no attempt to cover himself. He looked perplexed and angry and sexier than any of her memories.