Gary Robson is both a tea expert and a storyteller. With the Myths and Legends of Tea series, his goal is to create the Grimm’s Fairy Tales of tea.
Gary is as much in love with the stories of different tea styles as he is with the tea itself. He is frequently found standing in his tea shop telling the tales as they were originally told to him — or as he found them in the course of reading about tea. Many of these wondrous stories are far too short. The poor farmer who cleaned up a temple and was given Tieguanyin oolong as his reward by the goddess. The mandarin who added bergamot oil to an English earl’s tea to compensate for the calcium in the water and created one of the western world’s most popular teas. The tea master who performed one last tea ceremony after he was ordered by his daimyo to commit seppuku.
He has taken each of these tales and retold it in his own style. Some of the stories are entirely legend, their origins lost in the mists of time. Some are based heavily on fact. Some will be familiar to any tea aficionado. Some are purely the product of his own imagination. In all of them, he focuses on building a sense of the time, the setting, and the characters — bringing the stories of tea to life.
This first volume in the series features seven stories, each accompanied by a profile of the tea featured in the story. The stories span six countries (China, Japan, England, U.S., Taiwan, and Australia) and over 4,700 years.
Prologue: The Origin of Tea
China, 2737 BC
One of the most-recited myths in the tea world is that of Shennong, the legendary Chinese emperor who introduced agriculture to China, worked extensively with herbs, and invented acupuncture. In working with herbs, Shennong discovered that boiling water somehow made even “bad” water healthy to drink. One day, Shennong settles under a tree to relax with a cup of hot water. As he waits for the water to cool, leaves from the tree blow unnoticed into his cup. He raises the cup to his lips and becomes the first man to enjoy what is now the world’s most popular drink.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony: Tea, Serenity & Death
It is never wise to offend a daimyo, as Tea Master Sen no Rikyū discovers when his patron Toyotomi Hideyoshi commands Rikyū to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). Rikyū, who developed the Japanese tea ceremony as we know it today, asks Hideyoshi for permission to conduct one last ceremony. Rikyū shares his philosophy, his poetry, and the beauty and serenity of the tea ceremony with four of his disciples. Each is given a gift and all but one of his disciples, Zen priest Nanpō Sōkei, leave the tearoom. Rikyū hands him a sword. It is time.
The Iron Goddess of Mercy
During the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, the sixth emperor of the Qing Dynasty, a poor farmer is walking to market. He notices a crumbling abandoned temple of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. Every time he passes the temple, Wei stops for a while to fix it up. He works on the pathway, the gates, the temple building, and the statue of the goddess. When he finishes, the goddess appears to him in a dream and gives him a reward: the tea plant that becomes the heart of one of the greatest oolong teas.
Earl Grey: This Water Sucks!
Lord Charles, soon to become the second Earl Grey, is content at his home in Howick Hall, save one unhappy thing: the water is terrible, and it produces quite an inferior cup of tea. They have experimented to no avail, and finally turn to a tea expert for help. Chen shows up with a huge chest of tea and a virtual mobile laboratory of bottles and vials containing everything from essential oils to ground herbs. We know the rest. Even though Charles goes on to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, his own fame will be eclipsed by the tea that bears his name.
Teatime in Georgia: The Birth of Southern Sweet Tea
United States, 1870
One oft-repeated story is that iced tea was invented by Richard Blechynden at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. He was having little luck selling hot tea and dropped ice cubes in the tea, creating the first iced tea. Nice story, but it doesn’t account for an 1879 cookbook which includes a recipe for iced Southern sweet tea. Where did iced tea really come from? Our version of the legend is set in Georgia, where a lady is struggling to come up with an alternative to alcoholic tea punches for an event that includes members of the rapidly-growing temperance societies.
Oriental Beauty: The Braggart’s Tea
Huang comes from a prominent family that has been farming in Beipu for many generations, but since his father and brother were killed in the uprising almost 25 years ago, Huang has tried to keep his head down. When his tea crop is destroyed by leafhopper insects, he is near despair. That field of tea is all that he and his mother, Lin, have to live on. His neighbors have already given up. But Huang doesn’t give up so easily!
Post-apocalyptic Earl Grey
Australia, 20 years from now
The zombie apocalypse has spread mercilessly across the country. Only small pockets of the uninfected remain. Sam’s band of survivors is a small one, and they have resigned themselves to a long and difficult road ahead. It will be a much easier road, though, if they can only lay their hands on some tea. Earl Grey, perhaps. Little do they know how much that tea will change their lives…