Friday, January 1, 2010

The Origin and History of Tea

Kicking off this year with a bit of history is just the way to start our journey into the world of tea, now remember there will be a test at the end, just kidding. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did, learning about a new culture or should I say a very old culture is a great deal of fun, and to think that tea has played such a huge role in history makes our cup of the day a little more awe inspiring. So sit back steep yourself a cup and enjoy the read of the Origins and History of Tea.

The Origins of Tea Lore take us to China around 2737 BC, during the Reign of emperor Shen Nung, a scholar and trusted herbalist, as the legend goes, he knelt by a fire, boiling water in a small pot when the breeze blew the leaves from the top of a bush into his vessel, creating a flavorful aroma that caused the emperor to investigate. When Shen Nung tried this brew he was amazed and delighted.
Like Art Tea has its periods and its evolution may be into three main stages Boiled Tea the Whipped Tea and Steeped Tea, we moderns belong last school. The Cake tea which was boiled the Powdered tea which was whipped, and the Leaf tea which was steeped mark the distinct emotional impulses of the Tang the Sung and the Ming dynasties of China If we were inclined to borrow the much abused terminology of art classification we might designate them respectively the Classic the Romantic and the Naturalistic schools of Tea.
The tea plant a native of southern China was known from very early times to Chinese botany and medicine It is alluded to in the classics under the various names of Tou Tseh Chung Kha and Ming and was highly prized for possessing the virtues of relieving fatigue delighting the soul strengthening the will and repairing the eye sight It was not only administered as an internal dose but often applied externally in form of paste to alleviate rheumatic pains The Taoists claimed it as an important ingredient of the elixir of immortality The Buddhists used it extensively to prevent drowsiness during their long hours of meditation. By the fourth and fifth centuries Tea became a favorite beverage among the inhabitants of the Yangtse Kiang valley.
It was about this time that the modern ideograph Cha was coined evidently a corruption of the classic Tou. The poets of the southern dynasties have left some fragments of their fervent adoration of the froth of the liquid jade. Then emperors used to bestow some rare preparation of the leaves on their high ministers as a reward for eminent services. Yet the method of drinking tea at this stage was primitive in the extreme. The leaves were steamed crushed in a mortar made into a cake and boiled together with rice, ginger, salt, orange peel, spices, milk, and sometimes with onions. The custom obtains at the present day among the Tibetans and various Mongolian tribes who make a curious syrup of these ingredients. The use of lemon slices by the Russians who learned to take tea from the Chinese caravansaries points to the survival of the method.
Luwuh’s celebrated work the “Chaking, The Holy Scripture of Tea” in which he formulated the Code of Tea consists of three volumes and ten chapters. In the first chapter Luwuh treats of the nature of the tea plant, in the second chapter he disuses the implements for gathering the leaves in the third of the selection of the leaves, The forth chapter, he talks about the equipment of proper Tea making, in his book he describes 24 specific pieces beginning with the tripod brazier and ending with the bamboo cabinet that contains these items.
In the fifth chapter, he describes the method of making tea. He eliminates  all ingredients except salt. He dwells also on the much discussed question of the choice of water and the degree of boiling it. According to him the mountain spring is the best the river water and the spring water come next in the order of excellence. There are three stages of boiling the first boil is when the little bubbles like the eye of fishes swim on the surface, the second boil is when the bubbles are like crystal beads rolling in a fountain, the third boil is when the billows surge wildly in the kettle. The Cake tea is roasted before the fire until it becomes soft like a baby's arm and is shredded into powder between pieces of fine paper. Salt is put in the first boil, the tea in the second, and at the third boil a dipper full of cold water is poured into the kettle to settle the tea and revive the youth of the water.

In the Sung dynasty the whipped tea came into fashion and created the second school of Tea. The leaves were ground to fine powder in a small stone mill, and the preparation was whipped in hot water by a delicate whisk made of split bamboo. The new process led to some change in the tea-equipage of Luwuh, as well as the choice of leaves. Salt was discarded forever. The enthusiasm of the Sung people for tea knew no bounds. Epicures vied with each other in discovering new varieties, and regular tournaments were held to decide their superiority. The Emperor Kiasung (1101-1124), who was too great an artist to be a well-behaved monarch, lavished his treasures on the attainment of rare species. He himself wrote a dissertation on the twenty kinds of tea, among which he prizes the White Tea as the rarest and finest of quality.
In the middle of the fifteenth century the Ming Dynasty was harassed by internal troubles, and China again fell under the alien rule of the Manchus in the seventeenth century. Manners and customs changed to leave no vestige of the former times. The powdered tea is entirely forgotten. We find a Ming commentator at loss to recall the shape of the tea whisk mentioned in one of the Sung classics. Tea is now taken by steeping the leaves in hot water in a bowl or cup. The reason why the Western world is innocent of the older method of drinking tea is explained by the fact that Europe knew it only at the close of the Ming dynasty.

Marco Polo records a discussion in 1285 in about the tea-taxes, it was more commonly spoke of by Far eastern travelers Giovanni Batista Ramusio (1559), L. Almeida (1576), Maffeno (1588) and Tareira (1610)
By 1636 it had reached France and then Russia in 1638. England opened itself to  Tea by 1650 and spoke of it as “That excellent and by app physicians approved China drink called by the Chineans Teha, and by other nations Tay, alias Tee.” It was however not met with all positive remarks, a Heretic Henry Saville (1678) denounced drinking tea as a filthy custom.  Jonas Hanway (Essay on Tea, 1756) said that men seemed to lose their stature and comeliness, women their beauty through the use of tea. 
Tea has played an important part of our modern history; Colonial America lived under heavy oppression until a group made a stand in Boston to heavy taxation on Tea. To this day we see cultures that still observe tea time and still hold true to the mindset that a day without tea is a day  not lived well. I will leave you with this quote from The Book of Tea, that much of the information that we have learned in this blog today came from.

The Philosophy of Tea is not mere aestheticism in the ordinary acceptance of the term, for it expresses conjointly with ethics and religion our whole point of view about man and nature. Pg 4

Okakura , Kakuz┼Ź “The book of Tea”.  New York: The Shilling Press, 1906. Print

This is a brief but maybe deep history of tea, I hope that you enjoyed learning of its roots as much as I did in reserching it. I find the greatest joy in discovering somthing new that I didn't know about before, this has been one of those situations, I learned a great deal also.

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