Emperor’s Cloud: The Origin of Tea and Modernity

From my readings, tea is estimated by legend to be 5,000 years old, but scientists estimate it is 500,000 years old. What’s really fascinating is that the modern tea, the kind I search for, has been around a much shorter amount of time. Raw tea leaves, used in the distant past, were raw and bitter tasting. So what we’re doing when we appreciate tea is actually a modern tradition, yet definitely connected to our entire species history. It’s incredible.

Tea was discovered in China, at least by the modern record of it, and it is attributed in legend both to a healer, and to a medicine god. Legends are powerful psychological ways of describing phenomena, and this myth elevates tea into a mystical status that is an amazing way to use the imagination when you are drinking tea.

And that is what this blog is about. There are many ways and resources already available that describe taste, origin and history. I am reading two of these kinds of books right now. The pursuit of tea is something that can grip you hard, and it’s an incredible way to really get excited about something that connects you to your own experiences, the community of people excited about tea, a wider cultural context, histories, and myths. And here, I am using prose and poetry to describe my experiences with tea. I think that is the best thing I can offer to the conversation of tea. 

The tea I am having this morning isn’t really anything rare, and it is also incredible. It is Emperor’s Cloud Starbucks tea. I’m not proud of that lol, but it’s a great way to experience tea when you are traveling, or need a place to study early in the morning. 

The commercial description for Emperor’s Cloud is as follows:

“Praised as ‘green gold’ for centuries, this smooth green tea with a lingering aftertaste was a favorite amongst Chinese Emperors for many dynasties. One bud and two leaves are handpicked at 3,500 feet elevation where the tea trees are always shrouded in clouds and mist. This pure green tea makes an excellent cup anytime of the day.”

That also encapsulates an aspect of tea that I have been discussing in this post. When I was talking with one of the tea masters at the tea shop, he mentioned when he offered me Genmaicha that only emperors could actually afford pure tea in the distant past. What’s amazing about our modern tea is that technological advances have brought something that was so rare, into the lives of everyone. If we were born in an earlier time, we might never have been able to appreciate the endless beauty and peace of tea. It’s yet another example of modern technology democratizing experiences, and I am grateful for it.

All of my experiences with early morning tea when I am traveling, wether far or just in a morning commute have been from this specific tea. It is an experience completely unlike the simplicity and peace of having tea in your home, or having it in a tea shop, and even more removed, having it in a tea ceremony, which I would absolutely love to try. It’s actually a new life goal for me. But it is, like so many teas, deeply relaxing. So even when you have a busy morning, or are in stressful situations, tea can create an imaginary environment that connects you to your more peaceful experiences, and that is profound. 

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