The History of Chinese Tea
It is estimated that tea production in China began around 4,000 years ago. At this time it was grown only in the southern part of the country near Tibet. The Chinese would chew on fresh tea leaves to cleanse their mouths and throats, and enjoy its refreshing taste.
Tea was viewed as a powerful medicinal herb; doctors prescribed it for many ailments.
During the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), tea gained popularity as a healthy drink among the Chinese people. It was not only used for medicinal purposes but also became an important part of their diet, similar to what is done in China today.
As tea cultivation developed, tea was grown closer to the west of this southern region, near the country of Burma. This is where traders would later import tea to Europe and other parts of Asia.
Cutting the tea plant into pieces that could be planted elsewhere was an important development in the history of tea. This allowed for faster cultivation and higher yields.
The first cutting was performed during the Han Dynasty by a man named Lu Yu(陆羽), who is considered to have been one of China's greatest poets as well as the founder of the country's tea culture.
During this time, Lu Yu was also considered to be an expert in all forms of Chinese medicine and wrote one of China's most important books on the subject. Through his work at a government office where he helped to oversee agriculture, he came up with the idea for cutting tea plants into pieces to make them grow elsewhere.
Lu Yu's work would be passed down to future generations and tea cultivation continued to develop. Slowly but surely, the tea plant was brought further south near the cities of Hangzhou(杭州), Ningbo(宁波) and Anhui Province in northern Zhejiang(浙江).
It was in this region that tea cultivation became a full-time profession. Once the tea plant was brought there, it thrived and tea production increased greatly. This is where some of China's best teas today originate from.
The development of tea has been a continuity since its early days in China. Steaming, roasting, and pressing the leaves remain important techniques used to prepare tea today.
Chinese Tea Ceremony
The Chinese culture places an emphasis on the enjoyment of life by including many celebrations with friends and family. The most well-known tradition is called Gong Fu Cha, or Kung Fu Tea. It requires a great deal of time and practice for a tea master to perfect, but it is well worth the effort. This tradition involves four different steps:
Gong Fu(功夫) – "paying respect" – Preparing and serving tea to guests or family members as a sign of respect.
Yuan Xiang(圓香) – "aroma" – Steaming the tea leaves to make them soft and aromatic.
Zheng Jin(正紀) – "the right temperature" – Using water of the appropriate temperature to help bring out the tea's flavor.
Shou Zuo(收作) – "finishing touches" – Adding finishing touches such as removing excess water from the leaves.
The first step is called Jing Ding(靜定) or "quiet sitting" and it involves choosing a specific type of tea that will be served, along with the accompanying utensils used to create the perfect atmosphere. Usually white porcelain is used for this purpose because it represents peace and simplicity.
The second step is called Sheng Cha(生茶) or "raw tea", which involves heating the water before steeping.
The third step is to steep the leaves, Shou Zuo, until the desired taste has been achieved. This process may be repeated several times to get just the right flavor.
The final step of the Gong Fu Tea Ceremony is called Chao(抄) or "scooping". This involves scooping out the tea leaves to get all of their essence, which is considered by some to be the most important part of this activity. This entire process may take up to 30 minutes per cup of tea.
The Chinese have been enjoying tea since ancient times, because of its many benefits. It is one of the most commonly consumed drinks in China today.
Tea cultivation was introduced by Buddhist monks who brought it to China from India via the ancient silk road, where it quickly spread throughout the region because of its popularity among Buddhists. However, tea has deep roots in China.
Tea drinking was first recorded during the Shang Dynasty(商朝) in China's history around 600 B.C., where it was considered to be "a beverage of aristocrats". The tea plant wasn't indigenous to that region, so they used what is known as brick tea to make tea. This form of tea is dried and compressed, much like a cake, then broken off into smaller pieces that are boiled in water.
It wasn't until centuries later that loose leaf tea was introduced during the Han Dynasty(汉朝) from southwestern China around 202 B.C. That's when people began steaming, roasting and pressing the leaves instead of boiling them.
It was during this time that tea cultivation began in earnest with it spread through southern China by Buddhist monks who enjoyed its many benefits.
Ever since then, the Chinese have been perfecting the art of making tea into a full-time profession.
Today, there are many cultivars of tea that have been developed over the centuries in China.
The four primary types are white, green, oolong and black teas, which were named for the color that the leaves turn after being steamed. Other classifications include flower or non-flower teas depending on whether they contain flowers from a specific type of plant.
Tea is harvested by plucking the top two leaves and bud in early spring when they are filled with sap, which makes them sweeter, then laying them out in the sun to dry.
According to tradition, tea should be harvested in this manner three times a year with different varieties of tea picked at different times. This ensures that the freshness of the leaves will be maintained over time.
The Chinese have been drinking tea for thousands of years, which has given them ample opportunity to perfect its preparation and consumption.
Today, it is a sophisticated ritual that involves many steps, such as choosing an appropriate type of tea and preparing it in accordance with strict standards if one hopes to get the most enjoyment out of it.