This section is from the book "The Beverages of the Chinese; Kung-fu or Tauist Medical Gymnastics; the Population of China; A Modern Chinese Anatomist and A Chapter in Chinese Surgery.", by John Dudgeon. Also available from Amazon: Kung Fu, or Taoist Medical Gymnastics.
The first use of tea as a beverage in China dates from the commencement of the Sui dynasty (589 A.D.).
Previous to this it appears to have been used as a medicine, and is said to be mentioned in Shen Nung's Account of Aliments, some 3,000 years before the beginning of our era. By some its origin is ascribed to Imperial notice in the After Han dynasty (221-265 A.D.). It is recorded of one of the Heroes of the Three Kingdoms (about 221-263 A.D.) that he made his guests drink not less than seven pints of wine, but that a certain officer who could not drink more than three pints of wine, as a favour was allowed to have tea secretly given him in the place of wine. Meneius (368-321 B.C.) says - "In summer cold water was used in drinking; in winter, boiling water" - from which it may be inferred that tea was not then used. The use of tea, begun in the Sui dynasty, gained in reputation during the T'ang 620-907 A.D., and was abundant in that of the Sung 970-1280 A.D., being esteemed and used everywhere. It is stated that a duty on tea in the T'ang dynasty, to such an extent had its consumption reached, was levied in the year 783 A.D. This duty was increased in the succeeding dynasty, the Sung, when tea was first sent up as annual tribute to the Emperor. We are, therefore, safe in assuming the origin of this beverage in the 6th century of our era, and that, although known earlier as a medicine, it was not till the 9th that its use became general over the Empire.
The above is the substance of two notes in Notes and Queries (Vol. III, Nos. 5 and 7). My own investigations have led me to the following account of the origin and antiquity of tea. In a work on Dietetics, entitled Yin Shih Pien by Chang Hsing-yiin published in the 18th year of Chia Ch'ing (1814), and reprinted by Ts'ao Chienin the 3rd year of Tao Kwang (1824), in 8 volumes, it is said in the section on tea that the Pen Ts'ao (Great Herbal), quoting the commentary on the Erh Ya a Dictionary of the
12th century B.C., by Kwo states that chia-k'u-l'u is tea. The people of the kingdom of Shu modern Sze-chuan, called it k'u-ctia bitter tea, also chw'en the old leaves of the tea plant.
Lu Yii in the middle of the 8th century, author of the Ch'a Ching a treatise on the tea plant, the earliest book on the subject, says there are five names given to tea, viz., - ch'achiashe thing[spring sprouts], and chw'en. In the book called Tan Ch'ien Lu tea is said to be the ancient t'u sonchus obraceus, sow-thistle, a bitter edible plant. The Shih Chingsays: - Who ever says t'u is bitter? It is as sweet as the shepherd's purse. (Capsella bursa pastor is) Ch'i Yen Shih-ku a celebrated scholar and one of the chief Imperial Secretaries in the first two reigns of the T'ang dynasty, 7th century, says: - There is a place called Ch'a-ling and that, in the Han dynasty, the name ch'a was first given to the plant t'u. In the Spring and Autumn Annals of the Ch'ikingdom, there occurs the character t'u. Both of the Han histories speak of the T'u-ling The geography of the same dynasty speaks of Ch'a-ling in the country of Chang-sha The character t'u occurs twice in the Erh Ya. The character ch'a is made up of grass, man, and wood. It is said the ch'a character is not found in the Six Classics. Yang and Yen say it is found there. Under the radical grass, it quotes t'u-k'u-ts'ai as already explained by Kwo, in the Shih Ching. Under the section on mood, Kwosays of chia-k'u-t'u that soup can be made of its leaves. When picked early, it is called tea, later ming. There are clearly here, as our author maintains, two totally distinct things. K'u-t'u can be read as Chai Chia The t'u of k'u-ts'ai has retained its old sound. Yang has, therefore, not examined, our author asserts, this point carefully. There is great danger of pronouncing t'u as ch'a. It is not found in the ancient Herbals included among Drugs. The character first appeared in the Herbal of Su Kung-t'ang an official who revised and completed the 'Pang Dynasty Materia Medica, and Ch'en Ts'ang-ch'i first half of the 8th century. He published a work which may be translated: - Omissions in previous Works of Materia Medica. It is said to be found in Shen Nung's Account of Aliments, but this was added falsely by later writers. It does not occur in the ancient records. Why do we know it was introduced afterwards? Because, before the time of Kwo's commentary on the Erh Ya, there was no such character as ch'a How comes it then to be included in Shen Nung's list? In the Shi Chiand in the books of the anterior and after Han Dynasties, there was no tea character. In the time of the Three Kingdoms, in the Wu history there is an official named Wei Yao who did not drink wine; and, as it looked ill to be seated among guests and not to drink wine, Sun Hao the emperor, gave him chw'en in place of wine, that is tea.