Food & Drink



Literature- "Tea Classics"



Tea as a beverage was introduced to China no later than the 5th century BCE. The earliest extant mention of tea in literature is in the Shih Ching or Book of Changes, written c.550 BCE. Although the ideogram used (Tu) in these texts can also designate a variety of plants, such as sow thistle and thrush.

Chinese literature contains a significant number of ancient treatises on tea. Together, there exist approximately one hundred monographs or treatises on tea published from the Tang dynasty through the end of the Ming dynasty. The more famous books on tea are outlined below.

Classic of Tea by Lu Yu

Ch'a Ching (陆羽 茶经), Classic of Tea by Lu Yu, 760 CE.

According to popular legend, Lu Yu was an orphan of Jinling county (now Tianmen county in Hubei province) who was adopted by a Buddhist monk of the Dragon Cloud Monastery. He refused to take up the monkly robes and was assigned menial jobs by his stepfather. Lu Yu ran away and joined the circus as a clown. At age 14, Lu Yu was discovered by the local governor Li Qiwu who offered Lu Yu the use of his library and the opportunity to study with a teacher. During the An Lushan and Shi Siming rebellion period, Lu Yu retired to Shaoqi (now Wuxing county, Zhejiang). During this period, Lu Yu made friends with many literati, including the calligrapher Yian Zhenqing and the poet Huang Pu Zheng and wrote his magnum opus: Ch'a Ching.

For Lu Yu, tea symbolized the harmony and mysterious unity of the Universe. "He invested the Ch'a Ching with the concept that dominated the religious thought of his age, whether Buddhist, Taoist, or Confucian: to see in the particular an expression of the universal" (Shapira, et al., 150).

Content of Ch'a Ching

Lu Yu's Ch'a Ching (茶经) was the earliest treatise on tea in the world. The Ch'a Ching is divided into 10 chapters:

Huang Pu Zheng's poem about Lu Yu

Saw Lu Yu off to Pick Tea
Thousand mountains greeted my departing friend
When spring tea blossoming again
With indepth knowledge in picking tea
Through morning mist or crimson evening clouds
His solitary journey is my envy
Rendezvous in a temple of a remote mountain
We enjoyed picnic by a clear pebble fountain
In this silent night
Lit up a candle light
I knocked a marble bell for chime
While deep in thought for old time.

---Translated by Martin Tai, 21 November 1996

Other Tang Dynasty Tea Classics

Report on Water for Brewing Tea by Zhang Yiuxin

Zhang Yiuxin (张又新), Report on Water for Brewing Tea, (煎茶水记), 814 CE.

This is the earliest monograph on water for tea.


Report on Picking Tea by Wen Tingjun

 Wen Tingjun (温庭筠), Chai Cha Lu (采茶录), Report on Picking Tea, 860 CE

Sung Dynasty Classics on Tea

Tea Notes by Cai Xiang

Cai Xiang (蔡襄), Tea Notes (茶录), 1049 CE.

Reputed as the greatest calligrapher of the Song dynasty, Cai Xiang was also a great tea connoisseur. During the reign of Chingli (1042- 1048), Cai Xiang was the Officer of Transportation in Fujian. He pioneered the manufacture of a small Dragon Tribute Tea Cake of superlative quality. He also wrote the first tea treatise of the Song dynasty, Tea Notes is the first tea treatise of the Song dynasty.


In these essays, Cai Xiang criticized the traditional practice of mixing small amounts of Borneo camphor (Dryobalanops aromatica) into tea cakes. He wrote: "Tea has an intrinsic aroma. But tribute tea manufacturers like to mix in a small amount of Borneo camphor, supposedly to enhance the aroma of tea. The local people of Jian'an never mix any incense into tea." Cai Xiang was a native of Fujian; he first described the tea spotting tradition of Jian'an (now Shuiji county in Fujian).

Report on Tasting Tea of East Brook by Song Zhi An

Song Zhi An (宋子安), Report on Tasting Tea of East Brook, Dong Qi Shi Cha Lu (东溪试茶录), 1064 CE.

Treatise on Tea by Emperor Song Huizong

Emperor Song (宋徽宗), Huizong (大观茶论), Treatise on Tea 1107 CE.

Emperor Song Huizong was a great connoisseur of tea with masterful skill in tea ceremony, often engaged in tea tasting and tea competition with his subordinates in Song Imperial Court. Emperor Huizong's favorite was white tea.

Emperor Huizong provided the most detailed, vivid and masterful description of the Song dynasty technique of tea spotting competition. The Emperor also laid down seven criteria for tea competition. Emperor Huizong Da Guan Cha Lu (Treatise on Tea) is a key document for understanding the most sophisticated tea ceremony in Chinese history. It stands as the monumental treatise on tea after Lu Yu's Classic of Tea.

Record of Xuan He Era Tribute Tea in Bei'yuan District by Xiong Fan

Xiong Fan (熊蕃), Record of Xuan He Era Tribute Tea in Bei'yuan District, Xuan He Bei Yuan Gong Cha Lu (宣和北苑贡茶录).

Detail description of the names of tribute tea cakes, package, some with dimension data, for example "Longevity Dragon cake, silver mould, bamboo frame, one inch diameter" "Eternal Spring Jade Leave, bamboo frame, diameter 3 1/2 inch" etc.

Tea Ware Pictorial by The Old Man Shen'an by Shen'an Laoren

Shen'an Laoren (审安老人), Tea Ware Pictorial, by The Old Man Shen'an (茶具图赞), 1269 CE.

Pictorial of Tea Ware compiled c.1269 CE is the earliest picture book on tea ware used in preparing Song tea cake for drinking. This book described 12 tea wares:

Ming Dynasty Tea Classics

Tea Manual by Zhu Quan

Zhu Quan (朱权), Tea Manual (茶谱), 1440.

Zhu Quan, aka Prince Ning, 17th son of Ming Emperor Hongwu. Following his father Emperor Hongwu's ban on manufacturing of tea cake, Prince Ning advocated a simpler way of steeping lose tea, a radical departure from the sophisticated tea cake ceremony of Tang and Song dynasty, thus pioneered a new era in Chinese Tea Culture. Prince Ning also invented a tea stove called "Koojiejun'


A Report on Tea House by Lu Shusheng

Lu Shusheng (陆树声), Cha Liao Ji (茶寮记), A Report on Tea House,1570.


Wen Zhenheng (文震亨), Zhang Wu Zhi (长物志), Treatise on Superfluous Things/ Incense and Tea, 1621.


Classification of Tea by Gu Yuanching

Gu Yuanching (顾元庆), Cha Pu (茶谱), Classification of Tea, 1541.

Essential Record of Tea Tasting by Huang Ru

Huang Ru (黄儒), Pin Cha Yiao Lu (品茶要录), Essential Record of Tea Tasting 1075.

Eight Discourses on the Art of Living/ Tea by Gao Lian

Gao Lian (高濂), Eight Discourses on the Art of Living/ Tea, Jun Shen Ba Jian (遵生八笺), 1591.

Qing Dynasty

The Sequel to Classic of Tea by Lu Yianchan

Lu Yianchan (陸延燦), Xu Cha Jing (續茶經), The Sequel to Classic of Tea



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