Tea History

Pre-Classical Period (Before 618 A.D.) Classical  Period (618-907 A.D. Tang Dynasty) Romantic Period (690-1279 A.D. Sung Dynasty) Naturalistic Period (1368-1911 Ming & Ching Dynasties) Present Day


Pre-Classical Period (Before 618 A.D.)

Legend has it that the first person to drink tea was a man named, Shien Non Shei, who one day took his wife and children mountain climbing. During the climb Shien Non Shei became quite thirsty and while he was feeling thirsty a leaf drifted onto his foot. He picked this leaf up and twisted the leaf with his fingers. The juice of the leaf went on to his fingers and he tasted the juice with his tongue. The taste of the juice was quite bitter, so Shien Non Shei felt that this leaf could have medicinal properties and could help quench thirst, when brewed. Thus, according to legend he was the first individual to drink tea.

The first written reference of tea made and consumed appeared in 350 A.D. Kuo P’o’ updated an old Chinese dictionary to include the description of tea as “a beverage made from boiled leaves.” Tea during this time was made of leaves boiled in water with ginger, orange or other produce added to it. Although tea was mostly consumed for medicinal purposes to treat digestive and nervous conditions, people living in the interior part of China pressed tea into brick “currency” to barter with other tribes.

From 350 to 600 A.D., the demand for tea dramatically increased and outstripped the supply of wild tea trees. Farmers began to grow tea plants in the Szechwan district, but soon tea cultivation had spread throughout China.

Classical Period  (618-907 A.D., Tang Dynasty)

During this time, tea drinking evolved into an art form. Tea as part of the Chinese culture was epitomized by the book “Ch’a Ching” or “Tea Classic” written by Lu Yu in 780 A.D. This three volume book covered everything related to tea from the proper techniques to growing plants to brewing tea. There was even a detailed description of a formal tea ceremony utilizing 27 pieces of equipment. Due to the complexity and the great number of accessories needed for the tea ceremony, only the affluent connoisseurs could afford all the equipment and the servants needed to prepare the tea. The connoisseurs included scholars, officials, and members of the royal court who studied the teachings of Confucius. As a result, the culture of tea contained a poetic aura. Tea during this period was sold in a brick form. The leaves were steamed, crushed, fired, and crushed into a brick. Tea was made by breaking a piece from this brick and boiling it in water.

Lu Yu because of his book, “Tea Classic” is considered to be the “Father of Tea” in Chinese history. When he was a young boy, he was abandoned and Chi Chan, abbot of the Dragon Cloud Zen Monastery, adopted him. Lu Yu was brought up in the Zen tradition but decided to pursue the more poetic and scholarly ways of the Confucian tradition. After writing his “Tea Classic,” he attracted many students and became a friend of the Emperor.

Romantic Period (690-1279 A.D., Sung Dynasty)

During this period, every aspect of tea was further refined. Harvests became carefully regulated affairs. Before the harvest began, sacrifices were made to mountain deities. After a specific day was chosen to harvest the leaves at their peak, the tea pickers picked leaves to the rhythm of a drum or cymbal. The tea pickers were usually young girls who had to keep their fingernails a certain length in order to pick the leaves without touching their skin. The freshly harvested leaves were sorted by grades with the best grades sent to the emperor as tribute. A cake of high grade tea could be worth several pieces of gold while one of the highest grade would be priceless. Tea during this time was made by breaking a piece off a tea brick and grinding it into a powder. This powder was then added to hot water and whipped with a bamboo whisk.

Tea rooms and houses were built in order to enjoy tea at a social and spiritual level. There were even competitions among tea connoisseurs who were judged on the way they conducted their ceremony and on the quality of the tea leaves, water, and brewed tea. The art of making ceramic tea equipment was developed a great deal during this period. Tea bowls became deeper and wider to aid in the whipping. Since the prepared tea had a very light green hue, black and deep blue glazes were used on the bowls to enhance the tea’s color. The most famous style of these bowls was a black bowl with lines running down the bowl called rabbits fur. Zen philosophy dominated this period and tea preparation became less complicated and more peaceful. The Japanese art of tea has its roots from this era.

Naturalistic Period (1368-1911 A.D., Ming & Ching Dynasties)

During this era, tea became a beverage to be enjoyed by everyone, rich and poor, Chinese and Europeans. The first written mention of tea in Europe was in Gaimbattista Ramusio’s book “Voyages and Travels.” He was a secretary of the Venetian Council of Ren, and he wrote about the health enhancing properties of tea. In 1606, the Dutch East India Company imported the first shipments of Chinese tea. Tea consumption spread throughout Europe, Africa, and the rest of Asia. In 1773, a group of U.S. colonists protesting the taxation of tea by Great Britain, boarded a ship from the Dutch East India Company and dumped its cargo of tea. This event known as the Boston Tea Party is the reason why tea is not subject to import taxes today in the United States.

Tea during this time was made from loose leaves steeped in hot water. Different methods to process tea originated during this period, which as a result led to different types of tea such as green, oolong, and black teas.

Present Day

Today, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world after water. TenRen was founded in Taiwan in the early 1950's with the goal of preserving and educating the art of Chinese tea. In the United States tea has been experiencing tremendous growth. TenRen has been operating in the United States and Canada since the early 1980s with the goal of introducing the art of Chinese tea to a new audience. TenRen’s Lu Yu Tea Institute in Taiwan was established in 1970 with the goal of developing and refining Chinese tea culture. The Lu Yu Tea Institue has been the leader in the research, systemization, and development of tea equipment and tea brewing techniques. It has helped to educate many in Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere in the proper methods and techniques of Chinese tea culture.

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