Chinese mythology indicates that in 2737 BC the Chinese Emperor, Shen Nung, an herbalist and scholar, was resting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water. A leaf from the tree dropped into the water and Shen Nung decided to try the brew. That tree was a wild tea tree.
Alternately, Indian and Japanese legends both happen to credit the discovery of tea to Bodhidharma the devout Buddhist priest who founded Zen Buddhism. The Indian legend indicates how in the fifth year of a seven year sleepless meditation of Buddha he began to feel sleepy. Immediately he plucked a few leaves from a nearby bush and chewed them which dispelled his tiredness. Again, the bush was a wild tea tree.
From the earliest times tea has been revered for its properties as a healthy, refreshing drink. By the third century AD many tales were being told and some written about tea and the benefits of drinking tea. It was not until the Tang Dynasty (618 AD - 906 AD) that tea became China's national drink and the word ch'a was used to describe tea.
"Ch'a Ching", was the first book on tea written by Chinese author Lu Yu circa 780 AD. It's made of three volumes and documents tea from growing to making and drinking, as well as providing a historical summarization. "Ch'a Ching" includes many drawings of tea making tools and some say the book is what inspired Buddhist priests to create the Japanese tea ceremony using Matcha. The spread of tea growing through China and Japan is accredited to travels of Buddhist priests through the region.
The modern word "tea" is derived from early Chinese dialect words - such as Tchai, Cha and Tay - which were used both to describe the beverage as well as the leaf. Known as Camellia Sinensis to Western botanists, tea is an evergreen plant of the Camellia family.