When first introduced to the world of tea, most folks are told the story of how, over 5,000 years ago, the wily old Chinese emperor Shen Nung took a sip from his cup after a leaf floated into the hot water, thus being the first human to drink tea.

For centuries, tea remained exclusively a Chinese treasure. It wasn’t until Chinese Zen monks crossed the East China Sea to spread Buddhism that it arrived in Japan, and as Buddhism blossomed, to the rest of the Asian continent.

tea illustrationHowever, it wasn’t until the 16th century (ahem, only 34 centuries after Shen Nung took a swig) that the first recorded European got his tastebuds enlightened to the taste of tea. It is believed that that first lucky fellow was a Portuguese missionary of the Jesuit order named Father Jasper de Cruz, who wrote in great detail about his tea drinking experiences.

Prior to this, only vague rumors had reached Europe via traders traveling by land.  The members of these expeditions seemed to have been confused as to the use of tea leaves, however: documents suggest that they thought tea was to be served like vegetables, with salt and butter. Perhaps it was this misconception that inspired po cha, or Tibetan Butter Tea (or vice versa).

It wasn’t until Dutchman Peter Stuyvesant became Director-General of the colony of New Netherland, centered in the settlement known as New Amsterdam, that he brought with him the first tea seen in the Americas (it was already widely popular back home in “Old” Netherland). While the unique little hamlet didn’t withstand time’s rigors, the English incarnation, which they named New York, kept the tea tradition alive. And to thank Peter for the introduction to tea, New Yorkers named a Manhattan street after him, which is still around today, Stuyvesant Street.

And now, thanks to modern technology and transportation, great tea is readily available across the globe – and even in space! Ah, what a wonderful world we live in…