In prehistoric China tea was probably used as a relish and as a medicine. Tea was first brewed as a medicine around 2700 B.C. in the western mountains of China. Tea was likely seen as healthy in part because it was made with boiled water, which is safer to drink in an area of contaminated water.
Tea was also popular for stimulation. A Chinese document first suggested tea as a substitute for wine after AD 200.
Tea drinking, and commercial cultivation, spread during the T’ang Dynasty, 618–907, especially after a Buddhist monk, Lu Yu, wrote a book on the virtues of tea, Ch’a Ching. Tea gradually became one of the seven basic necessities of Chinese life. (The others are fuel, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, and vinegar.)
Zen Buddhist Favor Tea
A Japanese Buddhist priest, Saicho, is credited with introducing tea to Japan, when he returned from a visit to China in 805. In Japan tea drinking was considered medicinal, and became closely associated with Zen Buddhism.
Tea drinking also spread to Korea and Southeast Asia, and was taken over the Silk Road to Central Asia, Russia, and the Middle East.