From Legend to Science: the Health Benefits of Tea Throughout the world, tea and coffee rival each other as mankind's most popular brewed beverages. For thousands of years, however, tea has had one great advantage over coffee: it is believed to have a wide range of medicinal properties. In his book, Tea in China, John C. Evans states that ¡§if tea had not possessed a medical reputation, the beverage we know today might never have existed.¡¨ (Evans 19) Research in fact proves that tea owes its reputation as much to its health benefits as to its taste, and this has been true, since tea made its first appearance in ancient China more than two thousand years ago.
No one is sure where and when tea was first brewed; stories about tea's origins are more myth than reality. One story tells that a legendary Chinese leader and medical expert, Sheng Nong, discovered tea as a medicinal herb in 2737 B.C. One day while he was boiling water under a tea tree, some tea leaves fell into Sheng's pot of boiling water. After drinking some tea, he discovered its miraculous powers and immediately placed tea on his list of medicinal herbs.
John Blofeld, in Chinese Art of Tea, writes that ¡§it can be confidently stated that tea was known in the three kingdoms epoch (AD 222-277).¡¨ More importantly, however, ¡§tea [was] originally drunk for its medicinal properties.¡¨ (Blofeld 4) Evans links the early popularity of tea to Taoist religious practices during the Qin Dynasty (201 ¡V 207 B.C.). ¡§Taoists in particular became obsessed by long life and an Elixir of Life became a Taoist ideal. For Taoists the Elixir of Life was believed to be tea.¡¨ (Evans 20) Almost every writer who records the history of tea notes that it was originally consumed for its therapeutic effects. Zhang Binglun says that ¡§much was written in ancient Chinese books¡¨ about tea, and in particular, about its health benefits: Drinking genuine tea aids in quenching thirst and in digestion, checks phlegm, wards off sleepiness, stimulates renal activity, improves eyesight and mental prowess, dispels boredom and dissolves greasy food. One cannot do without tea for a single day. (Binglun 334) Zhang Binglun refers to modern studies that that lend scientific support to ancient claims of tea¡¦s medicinal proper...