In what is without doubt the most relevant discovery of the year, archaeologists have uncovered the oldest physical evidence of tea in the tomb of Han Emperor Jing Di. Buried in 141 B.C., the complicated emperor and true tea lover was entombed with the plant inside the Han Yangling Mausoleum outside of present-day Xi’an.
However, it took a team of Chinese scientists decades before they were able to use advanced equipment to finally determine that the mysterious block of plant matter they found was in fact tea after they succesfully identified traces of both caffeine and theanine, a chemical only found in the tea plant family. So, we wouldn’t really recommend trying a sip.
In addition, crystals found on the surface of the plants have been ascertained to be the same as those on tea leaves, according to the Smithsonian Researchers also ruled out the possibility of tea spontaneously growing in the area of the tomb.
“The identification of the tea found in the emperor’s tomb complex gives us a rare glimpse into very ancient traditions which shed light on the origins of one of the world’s favorite beverages,” summarized a member of the intrepid research team, archaeobotany professor Dorian Fuller, reports NPR.
But James Benn, author of Tea in China: A Religious and Cultural History, doubts the discovery is evidence of tea being used as a beverage back then.
“I’m not convinced that this is a discovery of ‘tea drinking’ as it was later understood. It could have been used along with other ingredients in a medicinal soup, for example,” Benn suggested.
Tea remains were also discovered in the Gurgyam Cemetery, located in the Ngari district of Tibet and dating back to 200 A.D. Bolstering Benn’s hypothesis, the Tibetan tea was found to have been buried alongside other plants, in a mixture which the research team believes was “consumed in a form similar to traditionally-prepared butter tea.”
Previously, the earliest “evidence” of tea was an ambiguous reference in a Chinese document from 59 B.C; meanwhile, it was believed that tea arrived in Tibet with Chinese princess Wencheng who was betrothed to Tibetan ruler Songtsen Gampo in 640 A.D.
But these latest tea revelations shake one’s foundations, challenge everything one knew to be true about the world and add an extra zing to the next piping hot brew you’ll be sipping for the rest of the winter.
By Pinky Latt