People in Asia have been enjoying the effects of caffeine from tea for thousands of years. For most of that time, they ate it as greens or added it to soup and other dishes. Buddhist monks, seeking simpler fare, brewed tea leaves to drink. The switch from tea as a food to treat as a drink was popularized in the 8th century by an entertainer named Lu Yu.
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Lu was an orphan raised in a Buddhist monastery, where he was used to tea as a drink. He ran away as a young teenager and “joined the circus,” so to speak, by becoming a comedy performer. His talents impressed a governor who took Lu in and helped him get an education. He became influential and well-connected, but never liked food made with tea. It wasn’t the tea he disliked, but all the other ingredients. He fervently believed tea was an elixir and should be enjoyed in its purest form. Read how he influenced China to switch to drinking tea instead of eating it at Atlas Obscura. While tea went global as a drink, there are still foods that use tea leaves as an ingredient, and you’ll find a recipe at the same link.