The Meaningful History of Chinese Tea
Although tea originated in China, Chinese tea generally represents tea leaves which have been processed using methods inherited from ancient China. According to popular legend, tea was discovered by Chinese Emperor Shennong in 2737 BCE when a leaf from a Camellia sinensis tree fell into water the emperor was boiling. Tea is deeply woven into the history and culture of China. The beverage is considered one of the seven necessities of Chinese life, along with firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce and vinegar.
Tea as a drink prospered during the Tang Dynasty, and tea shops became popular. Tea dates back to the Western Zhou Period of ancient China, when the Chinese used tea as a ritual offering. Since then, tea leaves have been eaten as a vegetable, used as medicine, and, from the time of the Han Dynasty, infused in boiling water, the new drink making tea into a major commodity. Production of tea became a state monopoly during the Tang Dynasty with the market strictly controlled and penalties imposed for illegal dealing in the commodity.A major event of this time was the completion of Tea Classics, the cornerstone of Chinese tea culture, by Lu Yu, Tea Sage of China. This little book details rules concerning various aspects of tea, such as growth areas for tea trees, wares and skills for processing tea, tea tasting, the history of Chinese tea and quotations from other records, comments on tea from various places, and notes on what occasions tea wares should be complete and when some wares could be omitted.
Tinted by the cultural style of the Song Dynasty, tea culture at this time was delicate and sumptuous. Tea was an important crop during the Song Dynasty. Tea farms covered 242 counties. This included expensive tribute tea; tea from Zhejiang and Fujian provinces, where some was exported to Southeast Asian and the Arab countries.
New skills created many different ways to enjoy tea. The Ming Dynasty laid the foundation for tea processing, tea types and drinking styles that we have inherited.In the Song Dynasty, tea started to be pressed into tea cake, some embossed with patterns of the dragon and the Phoenix and was called exotic names including:Large Dragon tea cake, Small Dragon tea cake, Surpass Snow Dragon ball cake, Fine Silver Sprout, Cloud Leaf, Gold Money, Jade Flower, Inch of Gold, Longevity Sprout, Eternal Spring Jade Leave, Dragon in the Clouds, Longevity Dragon Sprout, Dragon Phoenix and Flower, Eternal Spring Silver Sprout.
During the Qing Dynasty folk art entered tea shops, making them popular entertainment centers. This habit is still practiced in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.
During the Tang Dynasty, a Japanese monk brought tea seeds from Zhejiang Province to Japan. Later in the Southern Song Dynasty, Zen masters brought tea procedures and tea wares from China to Japan, promoting the initiation of the Japanese tea ceremony. In the Song Dynasty, Arabic merchants exported tea from Quanzhou, Fujian Province. In the Ming Dynasty, tea was sold to Southeast Asian and South African countries. In 1610 tea went to Europe via Macau in a Dutch merchant ship. Thus tea became an international drink.
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