A blog about China would be negilent if it didnt include posts about TEA.

A cup of tea on Spaceship China

Tea has a long history in China and like most things, has its own mythology.

Legendary emperor Shennong  神农 ( Divine Farmer) is said to have discovered tea whilst resting under a camelia tree, and the leaves fell into the water he was boiling to drink. It was used first for medicinal purposes.

The Zhou dynasty developed a complex set of rituals for good governnance, which have been handed down thoughout history and codified in the Zhou Li. During this time, tea was used for ritual purposes.

for all the tea in SpaceshipChina

By the Tang dynasty  tea became an art form. Tea culture spread rapidly, and an orphaned boy, adopted by the abbot of Dragon Cloud Chan Buddhist Temple, was to enter history as the author of the 茶经  Cha Jing, the Classic of Tea. Lu Yu included complex instuctions for the best tea-making, honouring tea as a kind of meditation. He guided tea drinkers into using only the purest of water from mountain springs, the types of pottery teapots and cups to use, the age of the teaplant and when best to pick the leaves, and best areas for tea cultivation.

Lu Yu spent 21 years writing his book, travelling through China sampling tea varities, brewing copious pots of teas, and studying with a poet to learn how to write. That all happened after he left the monastry ( same say he was kicked out) and began studying Confucianist thought.

During this era tea was sold in compact bricks which made it for tea merchants  to store during their travels.

During the later Sung dynasty, tea became regulated. All kinds of rituals sprung up around the production of this beverage. Young girls responsible for picking the leaves, needed to have fingernails of a certain length so the tea did not touch their skin. Musicians playing drums or cymbals would set a working rhythm for the tea-pickers. Tea from the tea-brick began to be turned into a powder, by grinding pieces from the brick.

茶点 Cha Dian – SpaceshipChina’s Teahouse

Tea houses spread, and tea masters were judged on their ability to properly conduct a tea ceremony, the quality of their leaves and how they brewed them. Tea houses became popular as a place to gather and talk.

Loose tea leaves came into favour in the Ming dynasty, and teapots became increasingly popular as a means to steep the tea.

It was a Venetian who first introduced tea to Europe, and no, it wasn’t Marco Polo. Gaimbattista Ramusio, Secretary of the Venetian Council,  wrote “Voyages and Travels” and in this book he introduced the health benefits of tea. Some years later, in 1606, the Dutch East India Company imported the first shipments of tea from China.

The story of how tea then spread to the rest of the world involves a camel train to Russia, a Portuguese Princess, British apocetheary shops,  portable tea sets with heaters for brewing tea, and mercenary traders,

Stay tuned.