"Drinking tea is a common practice among the Chinese and has been in existence for centuries." - China's Buddhist Culture (2010), p140.
Beginning in, or near the forests of South-West China, tea use most likely revolved around the medicinal and invigorating properties of the leaves. As The Book of Tea (2001) states, p12:
"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 eyesight. 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."Taoism: An essential guide (2011) illustrates how tea is considered sacred within religious Taoism with reference to it's presence on altars, p235-236:
"At the center of taoist ceremony is the altar. The altar is an image of the Tao and the spiritual center of a sacred space. Although the arrangement of the altar varies among Taoist sects, and different rituals call for special arrangements of ceremonial objects, the significance and symbolism of the objects on the altar are the same. [...] Directly in front of the sacred lamp are three cups. The cup in the center holds grains of uncooked rice; the cup to the left contains water; the cup to the right contains tea. Tea symbolizes yin, or female generative, energy; water symbolizes yang, or male generative, energy."The book The Way of Tea: Reflections on a Life with Tea (2010) points to the overlap between tea mastery and medicine in ancient China as follows, p37:
"In such olden days, tea masters sometimes referred to tea as “Chang Shen Dan (長生丹),” or “Longevity Medicine,” and the men who used it to cure “Tea Doctors (茶醫)”..."Since Taoists were considered to have possessed healing abilities as well as spiritual insight, it seems natural that they would have understood the unique properties of a plant such as tea. The Way of Tea speculates on this as follows, p35:
"In many places, these ancient mendicant sages were called “cloudwalkers,” because the fogs and mists that surrounded their mountain hermitages were often even lower than the places they dwelled, and the heavenly analogy — perhaps dreamed up by those lowly mortals in the World below gazing up into those silvery veils — is enough to make any wayfarer, of today or long ago, shed a tear of angst for a scene vivid enough to adorn some wizened, old silk scroll in a Chinese museum. And the cloudwalkers had also discovered the medicinal, meditative properties of the Leaf. Like the earlier shamans, these naturalists were also versed in herbal medicine, and had found that tea cleared the mind and sharpened concentration, making the transmission between teacher and student swifter. Through their weathered hands, tea became a Way of welcoming fellow travelers, disseminating wisdom, and an aid to transcendental meditation. In their simple, rustic huts or caves they would discuss the meaning of life and Tao over steaming bowls of tea leaves floating in water. They found that their heightened meditations and sharpened minds made the conduction of wisdom as smooth as the liquor itself..."Living beyond the confines of human society, these sages also lived in ways which could be beyond what is considered artistic, since they were seeking something beyond human conceptions - total integration with the Tao or Nature. Therefore their use of tea was likely simplistic and without deep consideration, p35:
"Tea to these ancient Taoist monks was also a part of the Way that they communicated with the universe. They gathered their water from mountain springs, boiled it in handmade kettles and drank from simple bowls. There was no art to their tea, only spirit."And further, these simple acts of drinking tea could even have been a simple way of teaching others how to integrate with the Tao, p43-44:
"Many of the tea sages that lived on those ancient mountains were beyond even the scribbled or spoken concepts of “transcendence” or “enlightenment,” as wobbly as they are in the ordinary minds of men. [...] Tea was, to the cloudwalkers, simplified to nothing but hot water and leaves. And knowing very well that the truth of the Tao was corrupted by any words — specifically teaching that in fact — they would have found other Ways to express and communicate the Tao to one another. What better way than tea?"The spread of tea drinking and cultivation, from it's natural habitat in South-West China to other regions, seems to have been intimately linked with spiritual and physical health practices, p41:
"...its diffusion from Yunnan to the rest of China can be attributed to these two factors: It was, throughout its entire journey, a spiritual method used first by shamans, then Taoist renunciates and later their Buddhist counterparts, or it was a sacred plant used by Chinese herbal doctors."Moving into the third century AD, tea farming had already been established in China, p38:
"By the Han Dynasty (206 bce-220 ce) farming and tea cultivation had reached a larger number of Chinese, and tea boxes have even been found in the tombs of royalty and nobles dating to the period..."However these farmers were different from peasants, since they were much more invested in their tea crops for personal reasons - often being monks growing small crops near their temples, p40:
"...the first farmers were often monks or tea sages, caring for the plants as part of the way they communed with Nature. On such high-altitude, monastery farms tea would first be nurtured into neat rows of hoed soil, and studied to find ways of improving the cultivation as well as processing of the finished leaf, but all with a care and reverence rarely found on commercial farms today."Even though cultivation took place, the natural occurence of tea trees was apparently revered as the most sacred and pure form of tea, p39:
"There was, however, a very real sense, both culturally and spiritually, that such changes trod upon Nature’s garden, ruffling otherwise pristine verdure. Tea was always thought of by early Chinese as a very sacred and pure plant, poetic in its liquor and golden or pink blossoms alike, and many felt that it should never be transplanted. In fact, the tea plant itself was sometimes called “Bu Qian (不遷)” in ancient times, which means “unmovable.”"Moving into more documented times, it remains that Chinese Buddhists were the channel through which tea spread throughout China, p49:
"The early shamans and Taoist recluses may have formed the principles of living tea, but it was the Buddhists that steeped China in the Way of Tea."And, p51:
"...as the new religion mingled with the old, the Taoist sages would no doubt have passed the Leaf on to the monks, especially since it was already the well-established custom when travelers met, the bowls over which deep discussions were held, and the sustenance of transmitted wisdom. Of course, at least some of these Buddhist monks — being sensitive meditators themselves — would have also recognized the power tea has to facilitate meditation and calm, and quickly adopted it as their own."These ideas about tea's ancient Chinese origins are mere speculation, however, since the author of The Japanese Way of Tea: From Its Origins in China to Sen Rikyu (1998) states that tea could even have arrived in China along with Buddhist from the West, p6:
"It is also possible that tea came into China together with Buddhism as it moved eastward. In any event, the very first reference to tea in a historical source came in the Former Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 8), according to Aoki Masaru in Chuka Chasho. The passage in question came from Tongyue, which appeared in 59 B.C. during the reign of Emperor Xuandi. “Tongyue” referred to a deed of purchase of a slave and was the title of a work of fiction by a scholar from Shu named Wang Bao. It detailed the duties of a slave whom Wang Bao had purchased. The servant was to clean the house, wash dishes, purchase wine, draw water, prepare meals, and set the table. He was also to pull garlic from the garden, cut wood, prepare meat, make soup with tubers, make vinegared salad with fish, steam turtles, prepare tea, and go into the city to buy something called tu. We presume this referred to tea, because the Chinese character closely resembled that for tea and because previous research has suggested that it was synonymous with the character for tea prior to the Tang era."The introduction of tea is mythically linked, even, with the arrival of the first Patriarch of Zen, Bodhidharma (early 5th century AD). The Way of Tea relates the legend as follows, p50:
"According to legend, Bodhidharma was a very critical master, and when he first came to China wouldn’t teach anyone, as he couldn’t find a pupil worthy of being his disciple. He then decided to retreat for nine years of meditation. During one of the longer nights of his vigil, he began to feel drowsy. The great leonine monk’s eyes disobeyed his will and fluttered closed for but a second. In a rage, Bodhidharma tore off his own eyelids and tossed them to the ground. And as the story goes, his divine eyelids sprouted the first tea trees. Obviously, this story illuminates the power tea has to sharpen the mind and keep us awake, improving meditation."
Drinking tea was integrated into Buddhist life at temples all over China, as China's Buddhist Culture (2010) reports, p140:
"This practice was even advocated by Buddhism. Temples commonly plant tea shrubs and monks consume tea; this has facilitated further spread of the custom of drinking tea among the common folk."Such was the apparent deep symbiosis between tea and Buddhists that the author of The Way of Tea ponders whether temples where built in mountain locations where tea was already growing, p51:
"...all the most famous teas in China come from mountains that also have important monasteries on them. Perhaps some of them are even founded on places where special strains of wild tea were found growing."The main reasons for the Buddhist interest in tea appeared to be the monastic rules regarding food intake, and the need to remain alert in meditation for long periods of time. China's Buddhist Culture states, p140:
"Sitting in meditation is an important part of Buddhism. It requires that the individual sit calmly, concentrate on thoughts, and focus the mind to reach the state of “light and healthy body, quiet mind, watching the world brightly and clearly.” It is necessary that the individual sit with feet crossed, keeping the body straight and focus the mind, with head and back upright and no shaking, leaning, reclining, or falling asleep. It is natural that sitting still for long periods of time will cause tiredness and drowsiness. However, according to Buddhist rules one cannot eat anything following lunch although consumption of beverage is allowed. Buddhism also does not permit drinking liquor or eating meat or fish in order to avoid stimulation of nerves. Therefore, tea, because it could rejuvenate the person and alleviate fatigue, became the most ideal drink that could aid sitting in meditation, and conformed to Buddhist precepts."However, this ancient Buddhist tea was more like a special watery soup, rather than the simpler and more refined beverage made from just the leaves that we know today, p141:
"Initially, Buddhist monks in China boiled tea with orange, sweet osmanthus, ginger, and other spices as was common among the common folk and called it “Cha Su.”"The Book of Tea goes into more detail on this soup as follows, p12:
"By the fourth and fifth centuries Tea became a favourite beverage among the inhabitants of the Yangtse-Kiang valley. It was about this time that 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 Thibetans 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 ancient method."It was only with the advent of the Tang Dynasty; China's golden cultural era (618-907 AD), that tea began to resemble the modern drink. The Way of Tea states, p32:
"For the most part, it would not be until the Tang Dynasty (618-907 ce) that the story of tea comes clearly into focus within the lens of history’s gaze..."In order to understand how this happened it is useful to look into how Buddhist monastics engaged with tea in more detail. China's Buddhist Culture explains how tea was drunk in monasteries as follows, p141:
"Temples had “Tea Halls,” where Zen monks discussed Buddhist principles, entertained almsgivers and guests, and tasted famous tea. Monks convened near the “tea drum” in the northwest corner of the Ceremonial Hall to drink tea. Zen monks would drink tea after lighting an incense stick to refresh their mind and concentrate on thoughts when sitting in meditation. The temples had an appointed “Tea Head,” who was in charge of making tea and offering it to guests. Some temples also had “Tea Monk” in front of the gate who offered tea to travelers. Tea in Buddhist temples was called as “Temple Tea” and was divided into several kinds including “Sacrificial Tea,” off ered to Buddha and Bodhisattva; “Ordained Tea,” drunk based on years of ordainment, and “Common Tea,” for all monks. After they washed their hands and faces early in the morning, Zen monks would drink tea before worshipping the Buddha. Some Zen monks would drink forty to fifty cups of tea each day. Drinking tea has become an indispensable part of the daily life of monks, and could be regarded as a special hobby of monks."With these practices continuing day in, day out, the tradition apparently became embedded in Chinese culture as lay people came and went from the monasteries. The Way of Tea states, p52:
"The people coming to the monasteries would no doubt have been exposed to tea all the time. The legendary Chan master Pai Chang was known to have included regulations about tea into the monastic code of those living in his monastery..."And, p53:
"...for the most part it was through the calm welcome of the monastery that much of the public of China would have its first introduction to tea."The planting, cultivation, and preparation of tea for drinking, in this way, mostly originated from Buddhist monks, as highlighted in China's Buddhist Culture, p141:
"Buddhist temples advocated drinking tea and also paid attention to planting tea trees and collecting and processing tea leaves. Many temples planted tea gardens and prepared famous tea. For example, Pi Lo Chun originated from Pi Lo Peak of Dongting Mountain, Jiangsu. The boiled tea is clear and fresh green. Its original name was “Water and Moon Tea,” and was first made by a monk from the Water and Moon Yard on Dongting Hill, Jiangsu. The predecessor of Oolong tea was “Wu Yi Yan Tea” from Wu Yi Mountain, Fujian. The best Oolong tea was that made by monks from Wuyi Temple since the Song and Yuan dynasties. Dafang tea made by monks in the Ming dynasty was the predecessor of Tunlu tea south of Anhui. Many famous types of tea in China originated in temple premises. It is said that purple porcelain teapot that had a special function in preserving tea flavor was invented by an old monk in Jinsha Temple, Yixing, south of Jiangsu."The Japanese Way of Tea sheds some light on this period by relating some details from a Tang Dynasty historical record called 'Fengshi Wenjianji (封氏闻见记)' written by a writer named Feng Yan, p6-7:
"According to Feng Yan, tea that was picked early was called cha, whereas that picked late was called ming. These satisfied thirst and kept one awake. He wrote that people in the south had enjoyed this drink earlier and that at last during the Kaiyuan era (713–741) it spread to the north as well. He further explained that at that time there was a priest, Jiangmo, at the temple called Lingyansi in Taishan, Shandong, who was both a great teacher and a student of the Chan sect of Buddhism and tirelessly pursued its discipline. Furthermore, he took no evening meal and expected all the others similarly to refrain from eating. He permitted only tea in place of food. Each person carried his own supply and, wherever he went, prepared and drank the beverage. Still others imitated this practice until at last it became the general custom."This chapter in Feng Yan's book is also referred to in China's Buddhist Culture, p141:
"The habit of drinking tea in Buddhist temples had a great infl uence on the tea drinking customs among the common folk. In Drinking Tea, Records of Things Seen and Heard, Volume 6, the author Mr. Feng says, “In the middle of Kaiyuan (Tang dynasty), a devil hunter advocated Zen Buddhism in Lingyan Temple, Taishan. He didn’t sleep or eat, drank only tea while learning Zen Buddhism. People carried the teapot and drank tea where they rested. Then, it became a custom.” The habit of drinking tea in temples spread and became a common custom in the North."However, the tea was still being made with additives, as The Way of Tea point out, p53:
"For most of the Tang Dynasty tea powder was boiled in a cauldron with other ingredients."It was only with the rise in popularity of the Zen school of Buddhism, with its emphasis on simple mindful procedures that the leaves began to be drunk on their own. China's Buddhist Culture mentions this as follows, p141:
"In the Tang dynasty, when Zen was popular, the Zen Temples were very selective about tea. Tea was boiled separately instead of with spices."From this world of Zen tea, a figure emerged who would make tea drinking into a serious formal mindfulness practice in it's own right. His name was Lù Yǔ (or Lo-Yu or Luwuh), who became known as the "tea God' after writing The Classic of Tea in the 8th Century AD. He is referred to in The Book of Tea as follows, p13:
"It needed the genius of the Tang dynasty to emancipate Tea from its crude state and lead to its final idealization. With Luwuh in the middle of the eighth century we have our first apostle of tea. He was born in an age when Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism were seeking mutual synthesis. The pantheistic symbolism of the time was urging one to mirror the Universal in the Particular. Luwuh, a poet, saw in the Tea-service the same harmony and order which reigned through all things. In his celebrated work, the “Chaking” (The Holy Scripture of Tea) he formulated the Code of Tea. He has since been worshipped as the tutelary god of the Chinese tea merchants."And in China's Buddhist Culture, p141:
"Lu Yu in the Tang dynasty loved tea and was good at performing the tea ceremony. He was regarded as the “God of Tea” by later generations. His “Tea Scripture” was the earliest treatise of tea in the world. He was not a Buddhist, but he lived in a temple and never left temples during his lifetime. Tea Scripture was the end product of his journey to some famous mountains and ancient temples, where he practiced picking tea leaves, made and tasted tea, and extensively absorbed monks’ experiences and summed them up."It was with this arrival of Lù Yǔ in the historical records that a new preparation method was advocated. The Japanese Way of Tea writes the following of this, p11:
"Regarding the preparation of tea, the Fengshi Wenjianji referred to “preparing and selling tea” and to “roasting tea,” while the Lu Yu biography from the Tang history spoke of “boiling tea.” What did they mean? According to Morooka Tamotsu, the way people drank tea in Lu Yu’s day in the area from Hubei to Sichuan was very much like the preparation of “yamacha” (mountain tea), which is found in the mountains of Shikoku in Japan today. This is a primitive method of parching fresh tea leaves, immersing them in hot water, and then drinking the resulting infusion. Another method widely used in Lu Yu’s era was “baifei cha,” and this, too, can still be found among Japanese farm families. It involved repeated immersion of the leaves of the tea plant in boiling hot water before drinking it."Also, p24-25:
"The types of tea in popular use took a variety of forms. There was cucha, which was a coarse tea made by chopping the leaves. Sancha was a loose leaf tea roasted over a fire, while mocha was roasted beside a fire and then ground in a mortar. Bingcha was tea that was pressed into a round cake. Finally, ancha was tea pressed into the bottom of a bottle into which hot water could be poured when ready to use. Sometimes people added other things to the tea, such as onion, root ginger or ginger sprouts, orange peel, or peppermint. These might be used roasted for a glossy effect or they might be boiled together with the tea, then removed and the foam skimmed and discarded. Despite their popularity, however, Lu Yu declared that such teas were fit only to be tossed into a gutter or a ditch."And so this refinement and 'art' of tea inspired other artists, who upon experiencing the product of Lù Yǔ's approach, decided to incorporate it into their lives, as stated in The Way of Tea, p53:
"The art of tea was, to such early scholars, poets, writers, and painters an attempt to capture some of the depth and serenity harmony brings, and the fervent need to convey such truth to others. As people came to the monasteries — including the upper classes and even royalty — the monks served them tea. They too would recognize its blessings, desiring tea for their own daily consumption."The Japanese Way of Tea has the following explanation for why poets were so attracted to mindful tea consumption, p35:
"The Chinese saw tea as an extremely efficacious means of fostering spiritual interests in poetic diversions, and by drinking tea as they wrote poetry they could attain a state of spiritual creativity that spurred their artistic output."Many poems inspired by Zen tea from the Tang Dynasty have been preserved to this day, such as those of Lú Tóng, p61:
"Lu Tong was a tea sage of the Tang Dynasty, born near the end of the eighth century of our era. Little is known of his life, other than that he declined an offer to be a provincial officer, preferring a quiet life of renunciation and tea. He lived a secluded existence somewhere in the mountains of Hunan Province, writing poems under the name “Master Jade Spring.” [...] His poems clearly demonstrate his presence and understanding of the power tea has to help us live more natural, complete lives."The Book of Tea relates a translation of his most famous poem (Seven Bowls of Tea) in this paragraph, p15:
"It was of such a beverage that Lotung, a Tang poet, wrote: “The first cup moistens my lips and throat, the second cup breaks my loneliness, the third cup searches my barren entrail but to find therein some five thousand volumes of odd ideographs. The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration, — all the wrong of life passes away through my pores. At the fifth cup I am purified; the sixth cup calls me to the realms of the immortals. The seventh cup — ah, but I could take no more! I only feel the breath of cool wind that rises in my sleeves. Where is Horaisan? Let me ride on this sweet breeze and waft away thither.”"The Way of Tea provides a translation of another tea poem, p53:
"Another famous poem from the Tang Dynasty captures the same emotion, as translated by Ling Wang in his prolific work on tea, Tea and Chinese Culture, elegantly expressing the way tea changes everything from the mundane to the poetic:The Japanese Way of Tea provides a translation of a poem written by a Tang official, p34:
A guest came to my home on a cold night.
Hastily I made tea in lieu of wine.
Atop the bamboo stove, water boiled in the kettle above the red flame.
Looking through the window, the moon was made more beautiful by plum trees in blossom."
"There is also a poem, which Wei Yingwu composed when he was traveling to Suzhou on assignment as an official by Emperor Dezong, titled “The Joy of Growing Tea in my Garden.” It contains these lines:It was during this period that the Japanese also began to drink green tea formally as a result of their emulation of Tang Dynasty Chinese cultural practices - a legacy which remains in popular practice today in modern Japan in the form of the Japanese 'zen tea' ceremony, p47:
Defile not its purity,
For drinking it expunges dust and woe.
The taste of this thing is spiritual.
Taking it from the mountain,
Where naturally it grew,
I planted it in my own wild garden.
The bushes, to my delight, flourished,
And I could invite my wonderful friends."
"It is clear that ancient Japanese culture was based on the relationship with China, and from the beginning of the association with Tang, starting with the dispatch of Inugami no Mitasuki under Emperor Jomei in 630, to the abandonment of the official relationship in 894, there were fifteen embassies altogether."Once tea drinking was embedded as a Chinese national cultural practice, teahouses became a common sight on highstreets, and were a normal part of social life in medieval China, as described in The Way of Tea, p42:
"Going to the tea houses became a part of every person’s morning, for tea had become more that just a treasure, healing herb, or poetic cup held only by the intelligentsia — tea had become a part of life, too founded to even imagine living without it, like rice or firewood."The Tang Dynasty fell and the Song Dynasty (960-1279) grew in its place, bringing about a further appreciation of tea drinking and a different perspective on the ideals behind the practice, as explained in The Book of Tea, p16-17:
"The tea-ideal of the Sungs differed from the Tangs even as their notion of life differed. They sought to actualize what their predecessors tried to symbolise. To the Neo-Confucian mind the cosmic law was not reflected in the phenomenal world, but the phenomenal world was the cosmic law itself. Æons were but moments — Nirvana always within grasp. The Taoist conception that immortality lay in the eternal change permeated all their modes of thought. It was the process, not the deed, which was interesting.This activity sent further cultural ripples through Chinese society bringing tea beyond the towns to the countryside, as stated in The Way of Tea, p54-55:
It was the completing, not the completion, which was really vital. Man came thus at once face to face with nature. A new meaning grew into the art of life. The tea began to be not a poetical pastime, but one of the methods of self-realisation. Wangyucheng eulogised tea as “flooding his soul like a direct appeal, that its delicate bitterness reminded him of the aftertaste of a good counsel.” Sotumpa wrote of the strength of the immaculate purity in tea which defied corruption as a truly virtuous man. Among the Buddhists, the southern Zen sect, which incorporated so much of Taoist doctrines, formulated an elaborate ritual of tea. The monks gathered before the image of Bodhi Dharma and drank tea out of a single bowl with the profound formality of a holy sacrament. It was this Zen ritual which finally developed into the Tea-ceremony of Japan in the fifteenth century."
"Tea was viewed throughout its artistic career also as a means to balance, holistic health, purity of mind — inspiring a museum of paintings, poetry, literature, ceramics, philosophy, as well as all of the unheard meditations. Eventually, tea drinking would spread beyond the palace and tea houses to the countryside... "The people of the Song Dynasty wished to build on the discoveries and refinements of the Tang Dynasty and sought to develop tea culture further. The Japanese Way of Tea states, p36-37:
"No matter how commanding the Chajing had been as a classic for its own day, a new age perceived new needs and demanded still further works on the Way of Tea, suited to those requirements. Among the works to address these was the Chalu, The Record of Tea, by Cai Xiang of the Song dynasty."Great tea banquets and tasting competitions were held, as reported in China's Buddhist Culture, p141-142:
"The famous Jingshan Temple in Yuhang, Zhejiang, in the Song dynasty often held tea banquets that were attended by monks, almsgivers, and pilgrims, wherein tea contests involving tasting and appraising tea quality were conducted. The method of “making tea by adding boiled water” was also invented, which played an important role in the further spread of the habit of drinking tea among the common folk. Along with the introduction of Buddhism into Korea, tea was also brought to Korean temples and the habit of drinking tea was formed and became popular among the common folk. Tea was introduced to Japan from China in the Han dynasty. Jingshan Temple in Yuhang, Zhejiang, was called as “the First Zen Temple in the Southeast” in the South Song dynasty where guests were offered tea. “Tea banquet” is often set up with a set of cooking utensils, and involves certain drinking methods and rituals. Japanese monks who studied in China brought the “tea banquet” to Japan and combined it with local customs; this has evolved into the “tea ceremony.”"It was during this time that tea drinking spread beyond East Asia and towards the West. The Silk Road in World History (2010) explains, p109-110:
"In addition to China’s traditional products, tea and porcelain drinking vessels associated with tea drinking, as well as porcelain dishes, enjoyed an international boom. Tea was especially popular among the nomads. Indeed, it was so popular that the tea-horse trade had replaced the old silk-horse trade on the northern borders of the Song Empire. Tea was also a favorite in Japan and the Islamic countries. Although porcelain ware was related to the tea culture, it was also independently significant. It, too, contributed to the growth in the maritime trade, since its relative fragility meant that it had to be packed in bulky and heavy containers, and its transport by ships was much more efficient than by caravans. It was in large part due to the demand for porcelain that countries all along the coasts of the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific became involved in the maritime trade."Harvesting methods and rituals became more elaborate and standardised, as stated to in The Way of Tea, p40:
"Many accounts of tea farming, even up into the twentieth century, suggest that the method of harvesting was handled with great care, especially if the tea was to be given in tribute to the palace. A tremendous amount of religious ceremony would precede the harvest, with offerings to local deities, as well as rights based on Buddhist, Taoist, or even folk beliefs, depending on the region. Often only young girls picked the tea, and did so at a very precise time of year (based on the lunar calendar, but usually just preceding the spring rains—late March or early April). They were strictly watched by government officials who organized them into groups and often had them wear special clothing so that impostors could not steal some of the highest quality teas. They would wake up in the middle of the night and climb up the mountain paths, braving the chilly air, because the tea had to be picked before dawn, when the fragrance was best; and then processed completely before sunset of the same day. They grew their fingernails long, as touching the leaves with the hand would transfer oils from the skin."Later, during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), even the 17th son of a Ming Emperor, Prince Zhū Quán, retired from his political life and pursued cultural arts such as tea drinking, p57:
"...the prince Zhu Quan himself retreated to a secluded monastery to be ordained. There he practiced drinking tea and wrote the book A Manual of Tea, in which he outlines the tea ceremony and the ways it can be used as a part of a spiritual life."As time went on, however, as much as an old forest stifles new growth and becomes more dead than alive, so the practice of tea drinking became overly ritualized and lost it's fresh simplicity, p43:
"Practiced away from the serenity of the mountains and the deep presence of the masters that formed it, however, the freedom and natural movement of the tea ceremony began to slowly formalize, becoming rigid and hollow."What remains today of the ancient tea culture is but an echo of what once used to be, with some aspects now heavily romanticized such as the tea plucking itself, p40-41:
"Even today, though much of this reverence has been lost, it is mostly females that continue to pick teas in China and Taiwan, perhaps because their hands are thought to be more delicate and dexterous."
The Book of Tea also paints a stark modern day picture of Chinese tea appreciation in the light of it's rich history, p17-18:
"To the latter-day Chinese tea is a delicious beverage, but not an ideal. The long woes of his country have robbed him of the zest for the meaning of life. He has become modern, that is to say, old and disenchanted. He has lost that sublime faith in illusions which constitutes the eternal youth and vigour of the poets and ancients. He is an eclectic and politely accepts the traditions of the universe. He toys with Nature, but does not condescend to conquer or worship her. His Leaf-tea is often wonderful with its flower-like aroma, but the romance of the Tang and Sung ceremonials are not to be found in his cup."This is not to say that we are without embers glowing in the remains of once mighty fireplaces, as stated in The Way of Tea, p35:
"...from math to history, meditation to martial arts, the tradition of master and student sharing tea has survived even into modern times."
|Vietnamese Zen Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh practicing mindful tea.|
In the next part in this series, the methodology of, and reflections upon, traditional East Asian Zen Tea practices will be looked at.