Alas, I was born three thousand years after the Buddha…
his voice is dim as the sound of the tide from the primordial heaven.
I wanted to seek the mysterious origin but obtained nothing.
I deeply regret that I was not born before the Buddha left this world.
So far, I have not been able to wash away my love of tea,
So I brought some to the Eastern Land (Korea) to smile at my difficulty.
I’m now unpacking the brocade wrappings from a jade jar,
to make a gift of some tea to close friends first.
-Ven. Cho Ui
Despite stories that the first tea trees sprouted from Bodhidharma’s discarded eyelids, tea was already being used in China at least a couple of thousand years before his arrival. So, for whatever the reason was that Bodhidharma came to the East, it wasn’t to bring tea!
The early preparation of tea was to press it into a block, roast it over a flame, then crumble it into boiling water, with salt, onion, ginger, and orange, creating a medicinal broth. A story I heard is that either a scholar or someone of royal status was boiling water when a tea leaf fluttered into the pot. He was pleased by the taste and, from there, thousands of year of tea culture were sprung.
In Korea, people were drinking a “tea” made from a plant related to the Azalea tree since prehistoric time. True tea was introduced to Korea by monks, returning from their studies in China and by the sixth century, tea drinking in Korea had became wide-spread. In the ninth century, the Shilla King, Heungdeok, received tea seeds from China, which he had planted in the southern hills of Jirisan, where they flourished and are still thriving today.