There are several versions of stories of how tea was originally discovered. While none can be verified, the consensus is that tea originated in China.
According to the Chinese legend tea was first invented by Seng Nong (a Chinese emperor) in 2737 B.C. who was a herbalist and believed in drinking boiled water. One day as he was holding a bowl of boiled water some dried tea (Camellia sinensis) leaves fell into his bowl. Made curious by the colour and aroma of it, he drank it and found it refreshing and delightful. Another version of the legend was that Seng Nong was a herbalist who tried and tasted hundreds of herbs and was poisoned one time. When he nearly fainted he grabbed some tea leaves, chewed them and miraculously was saved. In those days, tea was mainly used for medical purposes. It was not until 300 A.D. that tea became a daily drink.
Tea was introduced to Europe in the 1600s and to England in 1669. It was a drink enjoyed only by the wealthy until a Portuguese Princess Catherine Braganza brought it to the English court and made it popular.
Tea was first introduced to Japan in the 700s. It was first a luxury product only available to priests and noblemen as a medicinal drink. In around 1192, Eisai, founder of the Japanese Zen Buddhism, brought back from China the custom of making tea from powdered tea, thus the cultivation of tea spread across Japan. It was not until after 1333 that tea gained popularity among people of all social classes. Around that time the tea ceremony developed from a refined version of tea parties emphasizing etiquette and Zen-inspired simplicity.
There are different stories of how tea started in India. Most people accept that tea was brought to India in early 19th century by the British as an alternative to fight Chinese monopoly. But Indians claim that they had the tea plant long before that. It was not until 1950 that tea grew popular in India.
2 Yee, L. K. (2013, June 11). Tea's Wonderful History. Retrieved from Chinese Historical and Cultural Project: http://www.chcp.org/tea.html