Chinese Tea Culture
Brewed tea with spring water -Tea as a beverage was first consumed in China and has played a significant role in Asian culture for centuries as a staple beverage, a curative, and a status symbol; that’s the reason why theories of its origin are often religious or royal in nature.
To drink some tea in former China could be considered as a self consideration or an art. It is also a way to better appreciate life.
Chinese Tea is categorized into different types based on the way the leaves are prepared and processed. Whilst the final drink may be very different, it is interesting to note that all of the main varieties of tea actually come from the same species of plant - camellia sinensis.
There are 4 main categories; they are white, green, oolong and black, along with several other less common but distinctively different types including yellow and pu-erh.
Other common types of Chinese tea include jasmine and chrysanthemum flower teas; although according to the strict definition they are actually not tea. Nevertheless, they still make a refreshing and very pleasant beverage!
The varieties of tea also vary according to the season in which they are harvested.
One says there are seven things about which the Chinese people worry about in their everyday culinary life: the wood to warm, the rice, the oil, the salt, the soy sauce, the vinegar and the tea. Although the tea is lastly placed in the list, it represents nonetheless a cultural heritage mattering in the Chinese tradition.
China is at the origin of the tea and its culture. The tea is “a pillar” in the life and it accompanies the Chinese people since more than five thousand years. To offer to the guests a cup of tea is a pleasant tradition and the Chinese for a long time appreciate to drink some tea during or after a meal.
According to one of Chinese legends, the tea was discovered some 5,000 years ago by Shennong Shi, whose name literally means "Divine Farmer" and who is considered to have been one of the Three Sovereigns (also known as "Three Emperors").
Shen Nong Shi was the first Chinese herbal doctor and is venerated as the Father of Chinese medicine. One of his contributions was tasting herbs so people could have medicine; he discovered the tea while he traveled many high mountains and collected various plants.
Myths tell that Shennong had a transparent body and thus could see the effect of different plants and herbs on him. Thus, he could see which organ was affected and then select an antidote immediately. He found tea named “Cha” to work as an antidote.
One day, Shennong Shi found a kind of plant with green leaves and white flowers. He tested the leaves and noticed a strange thing: they circulated in his stomach and cleaned the food that he consumed before and also perfumed his breath and left a sensation of freshness in his mouth. From then on, Shennong Shi used those leaves to neutralize toxin of the healing plants he experienced.
He thought that this discovery -dated 2737 B.C-, had been addressed to him by the celestial gods as to show him their gratitude for its act of kindness in its search for healing plants to cure the diseases of the elderly.
To drink some tea has been changed into an enjoyable delight experience
After its discovery, the tea passed by several stages of development.
In ancient times, tea was used as a medicine. People cut the branches of the wild tea plants, took the leaves at the end of branches and prepared them in boiling water.
The earliest credible record of tea drinking dates to the 3rd century AD in a medical text by Hua T'o who stated that «to drink bitter t'u constantly makes one think better."
Under the Qin and Han Dynasties, people developed new methods: they cooked the tea leaves to make “small pancakes " and then compressed them to the powdered form. Afterward they added mixed ginger, spring onion, and oranges.
The tea culture became very popular under the Tang Dynasty. Gradually, drinking tea became a pleasant enjoyment. The tea banquets turned out to be very appreciated in the Royal Palace, in temples and among the intellectuals.
A tea banquet is at the same time a solemn and elegant event, following the strict rules of the tradition. The tea has to be of very high quality, and the water has to result from much acknowledged sources. The tea utensils must be precious and of an outstanding quality.
According to the ritual, during a tea banquet, the person in charge of the ceremony has personally to mix the tea or oversee the blend in sign of respect to the guests. After this, the mixture ought to be seen by everyone and will be smelt for appreciation of its colour before tasting.
After three turn, the dinner guests will judge the quality of the tea, will praise the high virtues of the host, take advantage of the landscape and the conversation or write poems.
Under the Ming Dynasty, the usual process grows to be simpler and thought in a more practical view.
Under the Tang dynasty, Lu Yu (733–804) was valued as the Sage of Tea for his contribution to Chinese tea culture. He is best known for his monumental book The Classic of Tea (Chinese: 茶经) Cha Jing, the first definitive work on cultivating, making and drinking tea.
Lu Yu's Tea Classic was the earliest treatise on tea in the world. For Lu Yu, tea symbolized the harmony and mysterious unity of the Universe.
Lu Yu's statue in Xi'an
The tea culture reflects the oriental traditional culture, combining the tea with Tao wisdom, pronounced in Chinese as Dao, which is an integral part of the Chinese culture.
The Dao of tea stresses the fact of being harmonious, quiet, optimistic and authentic. Peace of mind being the first step to get to tranquillity as a spiritual purpose in order to combine harmony and serenity. The idea is that as long as a person keeps quiet inside, she can always take advantage of the enjoyment of the conversation, of laughter, of the music and the opera.
Ones would say that the tea culture is a kind of intermediate culture which allows to pass on the spirit of the Chinese traditional culture to the future generations.
A famous tea drinker in China’s Tang Dynasty told tea had ten virtues: melting away depression, dissolving lethargy, encouraging liveliness, breaking up illness, bringing virtue and courtesy, expressing respect, making a distinction between different tastes, nurturing the body, practicing Dao, and improving one’s aspirations. “Tea brings Dao and elegance,” he was often heard saying.