In ancient times, tea was unknown beyond Chi. Rumors of its existence had reached other lands, and those who heard of it tried to find out what it was. But they had only their desires or imagition to guide them. The king of Inja sent an envoy to Chi, who returned with a gift of tea from the Emperor. But the envoy had seen peasants drink tea, and decided that it was unfit for his royal master. He suspected that the Emperor was trying to deceive them by substituting some lesser substance for the celestial drink.
A philosopher of Anja gathered what information he could find, and determined that tea must be rare, unique and mysterious, for it was known as an herb, a beverage, green, black, at times bitter, at other times sweet. In Koshish and Bebinem, people tested every herb and liquid they could find. Many were poisoned; all were disappointed. The tea plant had never been brought to their lands, so no one could find it. Still they continued the search.
The people of Mazhab knew of tea. They carried a small bag of it in their religious processions as a talisman. But no one thought about tasting it. When a wise man told them to pour boiling water over it, he was hanged as an enemy of their religion — for who else but an enemy would suggest destroying their magic? Before he died, he told his secret to a few, who then maged to get some tea and drink it secretly. When someone noticed and asked what they were doing, they answered that it was a simple medicine.
It was this way throughout the world. Some had seen the bush, but did not recognize it; others had tasted tea, but thought it common, certainly not a drink of legend. Still others possessed and worshipped it. Beyond Chi, only a few drank it, and only in secrecy.
A man of understanding spoke to the tea merchants: “The one who tastes, knows. The one who tastes not, knows not. Don’t speak of a heavenly beverage. Offer it at your banquets and say nothing. Those who like it will ask for more. Those who don’t aren’t fit to drink it. Close the shop of debate and mystery. Open the teahouse of experience.”
Tea was soon carried in every caravan on the Silk Route. Pausing to rest, merchants made tea and offered it to guests and companions, whether they knew the legends about tea or not. This was how chaikhas came to be set up from Peking to Bukhara to Samarkand. And those who tasted, knew.
At first only the powerful and those who pretended to possess wisdom sought the ambrosia, then protested, “But this is only dried leaves!” or “Why do you boil water when all I want is the celestial drink?” or yet again, “Prove to me what this is — it looks like mud, not gold!” But when knowledge about the truth spread, and tea was given to all who would taste it, only fools asked such questions.
And it is still that way.