Chinese Tea Culture (China's Tea Culture)
Tea has formed the essence of Chinese social life and culture for over five millennia.
According to legend, tea was discovered by chance by Emperor Shen Nung in 2737 BC, during the Five Rulers Era. Leaves from a nearby plant fell into a boiling kettle and the aroma of the brew was so enticing that the Emperor could not resist taking a sip. He marvelled at his own discovery and made the drink a national beverage. The plant was what is today commonly known as Camellia, which grows wild in China.
Tea consumption spread during the ensuing centuries. The first definitive book on tea - Cha Ching ("Tea Classic") - was written during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) by poet Lu Yu. In addition to cataloguing various methods of tea cultivation and preparation, the classic work set rules on the proper techniques for brewing the finest cup. It also, for the first time in history, defined the art of tea drinking.
Chinese Tea's Infancy
Before 8th century B.C., Chinese tea was primarily used as a medicine.
During the Chun Qiu Period (770 BC - 476 BC), Chinese people chewed tea leaves and enjoyed the taste of tea juicy itself.
Chinese Tea Became Food & Beverage
In the next stage, Chinese tea was cooked like a soup. Tea leaves were eaten along with the soup. Tea leaves were even mixed with food. Ancient Chinese books documented that tea was eaten and used with other spices to cook at this stage.
During the Qin, Han Dynasty (221 BC - 8 AD), simple processing of Chinese tea emerged. Tea leaves were pressed into ball shapes, dried and stored. When served, tea balls were crushed and mixed with green onion, ginger, etc., and then boiled in teapots. This is the point where Chinese tea turned from a medicine into a beverage. Also, it marked the beginning of Chinese tea being used to treat guests.
Chinese Tea as Part of Chinese Culture
Chinese tea evolved from a palace treat to a common beverage during the Jin Dynasty and Nan Bei Zhao (265 AD - 589 AD).
Later during the Tang Dynasty (618 AD - 907 AD), Chinese tea trading had became extremely busy. Techniques in tea plantation and processing advanced in great speed. Lots of famous teas were developed.
In the Tang Era, Chinese tea was processed and circulated in the form of tea cakes. People started to get serious about making tea. Specialized tea tools were used and tea books were published - including the most famous "Literature of Tea" by Lu Yue. The art of Chinese tea started to take shape. That was a big leap of Chinese tea into the cultural territory.
"Tea became popular in Tang and prospered in Song (960 - 1276)". In the beginning of Song Dynasty, Chinese tea was kept in the shape of balls and cakes. When served, tea was crushed and boiled with seasoning material. But as tea drinkers became more particular, they paid more respect to the original shape, color, and taste of tea leaves. Seasoning material faded out and loose leave tea started to take the center stage.
Chinese Tea from Boiling to Brewing
From the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) onward, loose leave tea had completely taken over. During 1531 to 1595, Chinese tea completed the process of moving from boiling to brewing. Specialty tea tools like YiXing teapots became popular from then on.
Chinese Tea Today
After Ming, numerous types of Chinese teas were invented. The Art of Chinese Tea is being perfected continuously. The famous Kung Fu Cha (or Kung Fu Tea) is one of the landmark development of Chinese tea brewing.
Now in China, tea family not only consists of traditional tea, but also tea beverage, tea food, tea medicine and other tea products.
Just as coffee in the West, tea became a part of daily life in China. You can see teahouses scattered on streets like cafes in the west. It has such a close relationship with Chinese that in recent years, a new branch of culture related to tea is rising up in China, which has a pleasant name of "Tea Culture". It includes the articles, poems, pictures about tea, the art of making and drinking tea, and some customs about tea.
In the Song dynasty, Lu You, who is known as "Tea Sage" wrote Tea Scripture, and detailed described the process of planting, harvesting, preparing, and making tea. Other famous poets such as Li Bai, Du Fu and Bai Juyi once created large number of poems about tea. Tang Bohu and Wen Zhengming even drew many pictures about tea.
Chinese are very critical about tea. People have high requirements about tea quality, water and tea wares. Normally, the finest tea is grown at altitudes of 3,000 to 7,000 feet (910 to 2,124m). People often use spring water, rain and snow water to make tea, among them the spring water and the rainwater in autumn are considered to be the best, besides rainwater in rain seasons is also perfect. Usually, Chinese will emphasis on water quality and water taste. Fine water must feature pure, sweet, cool, clean and flowing.
Chinese prefer pottery wares to others. The purple clay wares made from the Yixing, Jiangsu province and Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province are the best choice.
In China, there are customs about tea. A host will inject tea into teacup only seven tenth, and it is said the other three tenth will be filled with friendship and affection. Moreover, the teacup should be empty in three gulps. Tea plays an important role in Chinese emotional life.
Tea is always offered immediately to a guest in Chinese home. Serving a cup of tea is more than a matter of mere politeness; it is a symbol of togetherness, a sharing of something enjoyable and a way of showing respect to visitors. To not take at least a sip might be considered rude in some areas. In previous time, if the host held his teacup and said "please have tea", the guest will take his conge upon the suggestion to leave.
In China, people think different teas prefer different tea wares. Green tea prefers glass tea ware, scented tea porcelain ware while Oolong tea performs best in purple clay tea ware.
In its long history, tea wares not only improve tea quality but also by-produce a tea art. Skilled artisans bestow them artistic beauty.
Chinese Tea Culture:
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