Tea Mysteries from Ancient China

[Zhi Tea, Feb 2010]

The Chinese have enjoyed tea for centuries, if not millennia. While historically the use of tea as a medicinal herb to help stay awake is unclear, China is considered to have the earliest records of tea drinking. Recorded tea use in its history dating back to the first millennium BC when the Han Dynasty used tea as medicine. Surely one can visualize that they experienced the same clarity and stimulation that we do today, if not even more heightened states!

Laozi (ca. 600-517 BC), a classical philosopher, described tea as "the froth of the liquid jade." He identified it an indispensable ingredient to the elixir of Life. Legend has it, Master Lao was disgusted at his nation's immoral way of life, so he fled westward to Ta Chin. While passing through the Han Pass, he was offered tea by a customs inspector named Yin Hsi. Yin Hsi may have inspired the writers of the Dao De Jing, a collection of Laozi's sayings. Yin's generosity helped many people and thus began a national custom of offering tea to guests.

In 220 BC, a famed physician and surgeon named Hua Tuo wrote Shin Lun, in which he describes tea's ability to improve mental functions: "to drink k'u t'u [bitter tea] constantly makes one think better."

During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), production and preparation of all tea changed.  Tea leaves were roasted and then crumbled rather than steamed. This is the origin of today's loose teas and the practice of brewed tea.  

In 1391, the Ming court issued a proclamation that loose tea would be accepted as a "tribute." As a result, loose tea production increased and processing techniques advanced. Soon, most tea was distributed in full-leaf, loose form and steeped in earthenware vessels.

Today, while we prepare tea with a myriad of modern conveniences, it is with reverence we look back at the origin of tea to acknowledge the great inheritence we enjoy today. Raise a glass to history! And to our global tea culture. 

(Excerpts from Wikipedia)

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