There is little dispute that tea originated in China, but the story surrounding its origins --- or at least the Story that the Chinese like to tell --- is a bit more fantastical. And why not? A beverage of such prominence deserves a larger-than-life tale after all.

According to folklore, tea was discovered several thousand years ago by a know-it-all named Shennong (神農 Shen Nong), who not only invented crazy useful things for his people (like agricultural equipment and the Chinese calendar), but was also a father of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Shenning might or might not have been a real figure in history, but it does not hurt to believe in his existence --- if not his near-supernatural abilities.

One version of the tale claims that Shennong --- who had a habit of putting poisonous substances in his mouth --- was resting under a tree with a vessel of boiling water when some of the tree leaves dropped into his bowl, infusing the water with its own flavours. This resulting bitter liquid helped to detoxify and stimulate Shennong --- and tea as we know it was born.

Tea, first and foremost, was considered a type of medicine for Chinese. According to the "Shennong Classic of Herbal Medicine", a book on medicinal plants allegedly written by the legendary figure, drinking tea can help in all aspects of one's life, from needing less sleep to beign able to think faster and see better. Miracle herb indeed.

The Chinese character for tea, 茶 cha, is made up of component parts that mean "grass" (草 cao), "wood" (木 mu) and "human" (人 ren) - make of that what you will. The character is pronounced "cha" in Putonghua. In the Southern Chinese Fujian dialect, it is pronounced "teh". It is the latter version that is believed to have made its way into the English vocabulary via British traders hundreds of years ago, finally giving us the word "tea" in English.