Tea Origin Myth: Shennong


“Who is that wise-looking old guy munching on some plants?” you are undoubtedly asking yourself. Well that, my friends, is Shennong; or the “Invisible-Torsoed-Plant-Muncher” as I like to call him sometimes. Shennong is often attributed to the discovery of tea about five thousand years ago.

Shennong literally translates to “Divine Farmer” and he, according to legend, was largely responsible for discovering a very large quantity of herbs and plants. He also is given credit to inventing such things as the hoe, plow, axe, the farmer’s market, the Chinese calendar, and agricultural irrigation. In addition to this, he is credited to have drastically improved and refined acupuncture techniques and theory.

So, how did Shennong discover tea? I’m glad you asked!

Shennong had a torso which was a bit more translucent than the average person’s, and rather than mope around like any lesser person would do, he decided that he should use his partial see-thrrough-ness for the good of China. He noted that there were a distinctly large amount of unidentified plants around his neck of the woods, and he thought that was no good. No good at all. As such, he set out on a mission to eat as many plants as he possibly could, then monitor the effects on his body. He figured that since he had a see-through torso and all, he had a huge advantage on the average person.

On no day in particular, he set out on his plant eating mission. Some plants turned out to be delicious and not at all poisonous, but others were quite the opposite. That was all good with Shennong, though, because he was extra resistant to poisonous plants. However, he did notice that the plants were turning his organs black, which he thought was maybe a not-so-good thing to have happen. On and on his days went, and his organs got blacker and blacker.

Exhausted by all of the poison he ingested, he rested for a night, and made camp under a very large shrub. He put some water on boil over a fire, and accidentally fell asleep. When he awoke, he noticed several leaves from the shrub fell into his pot of water, and subsequently created a wonderfully aromatic and beautiful liquor. In traditional “well, you’ve got to start somewhere!” fashion, Shennong chose to start with this weird shrub water drink for the day. What he found was that the beverage lit up his mouth, and not only tasted wonderful, but also reversed the effects of his poisoned organs. He named this drink tea, and gave it to the Chinese people.


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