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Period (Before 618 A.D.)
Legend has it that the first person to drink tea was a man named, Shien Non Shei,
who one day took his wife and children mountain climbing. During the climb Shien
Non Shei became quite thirsty and while he was feeling thirsty a leaf drifted
onto his foot. He picked this leaf up and twisted the leaf with his fingers. The
juice of the leaf went on to his fingers and he tasted the juice with his
tongue. The taste of the juice was quite bitter, so Shien Non Shei felt that
this leaf could have medicinal properties and could help quench thirst, when
brewed. Thus, according to legend he was the first individual to drink tea.
The first written reference of tea made and consumed appeared in 350 A.D. Kuo
P’o’ updated an old Chinese dictionary to include the description of tea as
“a beverage made from boiled leaves.” Tea during this time was made of
leaves boiled in water with ginger, orange or other produce added to it.
Although tea was mostly consumed for medicinal purposes to treat digestive and
nervous conditions, people living in the interior part of China pressed tea into
brick “currency” to barter with other tribes.
From 350 to 600 A.D., the demand for tea dramatically increased and outstripped
the supply of wild tea trees. Farmers began to grow tea plants in the Szechwan
district, but soon tea cultivation had spread throughout China.
Period (618-907 A.D., Tang Dynasty)
During this time, tea drinking evolved into an art form. Tea as part of the
Chinese culture was epitomized by the book “Ch’a Ching” or “Tea
Classic” written by Lu Yu in 780 A.D. This three volume book covered
everything related to tea from the proper techniques to growing plants to
brewing tea. There was even a detailed description of a formal tea ceremony
utilizing 27 pieces of equipment. Due to the complexity and the great number of
accessories needed for the tea ceremony, only the affluent connoisseurs could
afford all the equipment and the servants needed to prepare the tea. The
connoisseurs included scholars, officials, and members of the royal court who
studied the teachings of Confucius. As a result, the culture of tea contained a
poetic aura. Tea during this period was sold in a brick form. The leaves were
steamed, crushed, fired, and crushed into a brick. Tea was made by breaking a
piece from this brick and boiling it in water.
Lu Yu because of his book, “Tea Classic” is considered to be the “Father
of Tea” in Chinese history. When he was a young boy, he was abandoned and Chi
Chan, abbot of the Dragon Cloud Zen Monastery, adopted him. Lu Yu was brought up
in the Zen tradition but decided to pursue the more poetic and scholarly ways of
the Confucian tradition. After writing his “Tea Classic,” he attracted many
students and became a friend of the Emperor.
Period (690-1279 A.D., Sung Dynasty)
During this period, every aspect of tea was further refined. Harvests became
carefully regulated affairs. Before the harvest began, sacrifices were made to
mountain deities. After a specific day was chosen to harvest the leaves at their
peak, the tea pickers picked leaves to the rhythm of a drum or cymbal. The tea
pickers were usually young girls who had to keep their fingernails a certain
length in order to pick the leaves without touching their skin. The freshly
harvested leaves were sorted by grades with the best grades sent to the emperor
as tribute. A cake of high grade tea could be worth several pieces of gold while
one of the highest grade would be priceless. Tea during this time was made by
breaking a piece off a tea brick and grinding it into a powder. This powder was
then added to hot water and whipped with a bamboo whisk.
Tea rooms and houses were built in order to enjoy tea at a social and spiritual
level. There were even competitions among tea connoisseurs who were judged on
the way they conducted their ceremony and on the quality of the tea leaves,
water, and brewed tea. The art of making ceramic tea equipment was developed a
great deal during this period. Tea bowls became deeper and wider to aid in the
whipping. Since the prepared tea had a very light green hue, black and deep blue
glazes were used on the bowls to enhance the tea’s color. The most famous
style of these bowls was a black bowl with lines running down the bowl called
rabbits fur. Zen philosophy dominated this period and tea preparation became
less complicated and more peaceful. The Japanese art of tea has its roots from
Period (1368-1911 A.D., Ming & Ching Dynasties)
During this era, tea became a beverage to be enjoyed by everyone, rich and poor,
Chinese and Europeans. The first written mention of tea in Europe was in
Gaimbattista Ramusio’s book “Voyages and Travels.” He was a secretary of
the Venetian Council of Ren, and he wrote about the health enhancing properties
of tea. In 1606, the Dutch East India Company imported the first shipments of
Chinese tea. Tea consumption spread throughout Europe, Africa, and the rest of
Asia. In 1773, a group of U.S. colonists protesting the taxation of tea by Great
Britain, boarded a ship from the Dutch East India Company and dumped its cargo
of tea. This event known as the Boston Tea Party is the reason why tea is not
subject to import taxes today in the United States.
Tea during this time was made from loose leaves steeped in hot water. Different
methods to process tea originated during this period, which as a result led to
different types of tea such as green, oolong, and black teas.
Today, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world after water. In the
United States tea has been experiencing tremendous growth with the market for tea doubling in the last 10 years. Ten TeaSM hopes to bring some of the best in tea and tea culture to the United States and around the world.