Tea in Mythology
Lu Yu wrote in Cha Jing: "Tea as a beverage was originated from Shen Nong".
A medicine book "Shen Nong Ben Chao" stated that "Shen Nong tasted hundreds of herbs, he encountered seventy two poisons daily, he used tea as antidote".
In Chinese legend, Shen Nong died in Tea Hill (Cha Lin) county of Hunan province.
Observations of the Tea Plant
In 760 CE, Lu Yu already noted: "Tea is a grand tree from the South, tall from one, two, and up to several dozen Chi. Some with circumference up two meters."
A. Wilson in his exploration of the south east area of China discovered tea bushes up to ten feet tall in mountains in Sichuan
- In 1939, botanists discovered a 7.5 meter wild tea tree in Wuchuang county of Guizhou province.
- In 1940, on the Old Eagle mountain of Wuchuang county, a 6.6 meter tall wild tea tree was discovered.
- In 1957, a 12 meter wild tea tree was discovered in Cheshui county of Guizhou.
- In 1961, a one thousand seven hundred years old, thirty two meters tall and more than one meter diameter wild tea tree was found in the rain forest of Yunnan, this is the king of tea trees.
- In 1976, a 13 meter wild tea tree was found on Daozhen county, on a mountain at 1400 meter elevation.
More wild tea trees were found in the mountains of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, many of them more than ten meters tall.
Origin of the Word Cha
Tea was called "tu" in the Chinese ancient classic Shi Jing (The book of Songs).
Tea was also called 'jia' in the ancient Chinese classic Er Ya compiled during the early Han dynasty: "Jia is bitter tu".
The word tu was further annotated by a Jin scholar, Guo Pu (276- 324 CE): "Tu is a small plant, its leave can be brewed into beverage...".
In a Western Han monograph on dialect, Fang Yian, tea was called 'She'.
During the Han dynasty, the word tu took on a new pronunciation, 'cha', in addition to its old pronunciation 'tu'.
The phoneme 'tu' later developed into 'te' in the Fujian dialect, and later 'te' (pronounced in english as 'tea').
The phoneme 'she' later became 'soh' in Jiangsu province, Suleiman's 'Sakh' also came from 'she'.
The phoneme "jia' later became 'cha' and 'chai'.
The first use of the word 'cha' instead of 'tu' was in Lu Yu's Cha Jing, The Classic of Tea of 760 CE.
Periods in the History of Tea
Drinking tea among bamboo plants.
During the Spring and Autumn Period (221 BCE), Tu was used as sacrifice for ceremony
According to Chinese historical record, ca. 1000 BCE, there were already tea farms in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.
From the end of the Spring and Autumn Period to early Western Han dynasty, Tu was used as a vegetable food.
From the historical text "Yianzhi Chunchiu", it is written that the prime minister of Chi (547 BCE- 490 BCE) had egg and tea food on his table.
Xia Zhong's Treatise on Food reads: "Since Jin dynasty, the people of Wu (now Suzhou city) cooked tea leaves as food, and called it tea broth".
Tu was used as medicine during the Western Han. From the late Western Han Dynasty to the Three Kingdoms Period, tea was an imperial beverage and spread to the rest of the population, including as far west as Tibet, by the time of the Western Jin dynasty. In the Tang period, tea became one of the seven essentials of daily life.
During the Southern Song Dynasty a Japanese monk, Eisai (Yosai), came to Tiantai mountain of Zhejiang to study Zen Buddhism in 1168. When he returned to Japan in 1193, he brought a tea plant from China, planted it and wrote the first Japanese book on tea, "Treatise on Drinking Tea for Health" (喫茶養生記). This was the beginning of tea cultivation and tea culture in Japan.
By the Song Dynasty period, tea was a major export. Through the Silk Road, tea spread to Arab countries and Africa.
Marco Polo spoke of tea in his many stories that became "The Travels of Marco Polo, the Venetian".
In 1559, Giovanni Battista Ramusio mentioned "chai" in "Delle Navigatione et Viaggi", Vol 2.
Mass Production of White Tea
Modern-day white teas can be traced to the Qing Dynasty in 1796. Teas were processed and distributed as loose tea that were to be steeped. They were produced from "chaicha," a mixed-variety tea bush. They differed from other green teas in that the white tea process did not incorporate de-enzyming by steaming or pan-firing. The silver needle white teas that were produced from the "chaicha" tea bushes were thin, small and did not have much silvery-white hair.
It wasn't until 1885 that specific varieties of tea bushes were selected to make "Silver Needle" and other white teas. The large, fleshy buds of the "Big White," "Small White" and "Narcissus" tea bushes were selected to make white teas and are still used today as the raw material for the production of white tea. By 1891, the large, silvery-white down-covered Silver Needle was exported, and the production of White Peony started around 1922.
The First Tea Monograph
The first tea monograph Cha Jing by Tang dynasty writer Lu Yu was completed around 760 CE. This is more than four hundred years earlier than the first Japanese tea monograph by Eisai. No known ancient Indian monograph on tea exists.
There were about one hundred tea monographs from the Tang dynasty to Qing dynasty. This treasure about tea culture is only beginning to attract the interest of western scholars.
Food & Drink :: Tea
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