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Tea is believed to have first grown in the Yunnan province of China. The earliest surviving written record of tea was written over 2000 years ago near Seito, the capital of Shisensho province in China.

The first record of tea in Japan dates back to an early 9th century document stating Emperor Saga was served tea by a Buddhist priest named Eichu. Over time, the Japanese interest in Chinese activities, including drinking tea, declined.

Around the end of the 12th century, the zen monk Eisai brought Zen Buddhism to Japan, along with a new way of producing and drinking tea (matcha). Interest in tea drinking returned, but remained mainly as a Buddhist priest activity.

In the 14th century, tea drinking spread from the Buddhist temples to nobles and samurai visiting the temples.

The 15th century saw the development of the chakai, a banquet involving the making and serving of tea. These lively banquets often involved showing off beautiful Chinese imports.

Murata Shuko (1423-1502) examined the conflict between the zen mind and the flashy tea ceremony. His words on the topic began the idea of wabi-cha (simple tea).

Takeno Joo (1502-1555) was the heir of a wealthy leather merchant. He studied renga poetry as well as zen and tea. Although he was well off, he disliked the showy behavior normally associated with wealth. Takeno Joo preferred simple, understated ideas. He embraced Murata Shuko's ideas on simple tea.

Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) is important, not only in the practice of tea, but in Japanese history as well. Born in Sakai, he studied tea under Takeno Joo at an early age. Rikyu made a name for himself as a tea practitioner, finally becoming tea master to powerful figures of the age, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Rikyu's aim was to remove, as far as possible, the element of play and to achieve a tea ceremony centered on a spiritual exchange between people. He used his eye for beauty to create many utensils, beginning with Chojiro's raku tea bowls, which had a wabi (quiet simplicity) aesthetic and, displayed an originality until then not seen in the tea ceremony. Rikyu's sado has continued to this day, passed down through the 'Sansenke' (three Sen family branches), Omotesenke, Urasenke and Mushanokojisenke.