Tea = Longevity ?! Qing Emperor Qianlong and German Emperor Wilhelm I

Wenzhuo Liu

Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799), Aisin Gioro Hongli loved tea very much, he said, “I as a king can’t live without tea in a day” and left around 300 tea poems and many tea stories. He praised the tea in Changle County, Hubei Province (today’s Wufeng tea) as “real immortal tea”. Emperor Qianlong was also the longest lived emperor in Chinese history and died at 88 years old. There is also a long-lived king in German history, William I, born in 1797 in Berlin, the capital of Prussia, he and his wife like drinking tea very much, especially Wuhan Hankou tea in Hubei Province, he lived 91 years. The longevity of the two kings must have something to do with drinking tea.

According to legend, when Emperor Qianlong was going to abdicate at the age of 85, a minister said obsequiously, “the country can’t be without a king for a day.” Emperor Qianlong replied, “I as a king can’t live without tea in a day.” It was the emperor who led the development and expansion of Chinese tea culture. After tasting “Longjing tea” in Hangzhou, he was very happy for a while. He then granted 18 tea trees beside the local Longjing Hugong temple as “imperial tea” and demanded annual tribute.


After tasting the famous tea “Junshan Silver Needle” of Dongting Lake in Hunan, it was awarded as the royal tribute tea by Qianlong, which the local needed to pay tribute every year 18 Jin. In Chong‘an, Fujian Province, he tasted the “Dahongpao” of Oolong tea. At the beginning, he thought its name was not elegant, and when he knew its origin, he was pleased to inscribe the plaque. After tasting oolong tea in Anxi, Fujian Province, he named the tea as Tieguanyin. These famous teas had great reputations, people often tell stories of Qianlong to help them sell tea well. It could be seen that Emperor Qianlong made an indelible contribution to Chinese tea culture.

In addition, the tea ritual that has been widely spread up to now, that is, when the host is offering tea or adding to guests‘ tea cup, the guests knock a few times on the table with their middle and index fingers to show their gratitude. It is also said that it originated from the story of Qianlong visiting the south of the Yangtze River. When Emperor Qianlong was in Suzhou, he disguised himself as common people and paid a private visit with several attendants. When he went to a teahouse, he hastened to drink tea. He didn’t wait for the tea doctor to take care of him, picked up the teapot and poured tea for himself and his attendants. The servant wanted to kneel down to receive the tea but fear of exposing the emperor’s identity, not kneeling violated the etiquette of the palace. At this time, a servant had an idea. He stretched out his hand to bend his middle and index fingers, kowtowed to the emperor like kneeling on his knees and thanking the tea. When Qianlong saw it, he was very happy and praised him gently. Since then, this tea ritual has gradually spread and has not been abandoned till now.

the Tea Ritual to show guests‘ gratitude

One night, Qianlong read a lot of memorials and felt sleepy. Seeing this, the palace maid quickly made a cup of tea and put it on the imperial table. Tea water vapour rose like clouds, opened up a sweet and mellow fragrance, Qianlong breathed in the tea fragrance, it could clean his brain and clear his eyes. When he saw it, the tea in the cup was like the shape of a peach blossom in bud, stood upright in the cup. Tea water vapour like a cloud surround him, the “immprtal air” flowing in his body, the whole body was comfortable, and the internal power doubled. “Good tea, rarely good tea,” he clapped and asked the palace maid “where does this tea come from?”, she replied “this tea is the Shui Jin Si Tea 水尽司茶 offered by Changle County (later renamed Wufeng, Wufeng Tea)”. Qianlong said excitedly “when I visited the south of the Yangtze River, I heard about the famous tea from this place. I taste it today, it has a well-deserved reputation. ” Then he took a few more sips, tasted, and said with appreciation “it’s really an immortal tea”.

Mao Jian – Wufeng Green Tea

Emperor Qianlong drank this tea for many days, and he felt that his appetite was increased, his spirit was refreshed, his ears were clear and his eyes were bright, and he had the wonderful effect of becoming young again. One day after the early morning, Emperor Qianlong asked the palace maid to make a cup of Shui Jin Si Tea. He took a few drinks, and he felt relaxed and happy for a while, and his passion burst out. As soon as he was excited, he wrote four characters: “Water Immortal Fragrant Tea 水仙香茗”. He expressed his high praise for this tea and asked the court to send the inscription to Changle (Wufeng) County Yamen to show the emperor’s favor. Since then, Water Immortal Fragrant Tea had become a tribute of the imperial court.

Qianlong and Wilhelm I in martial attire 戎装图

Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig (1797—1888) and his wife, who was the Prussian King at that time and later became the German emperor, preferred Hankou black tea sent from St. Petersburg to Souchong tea from Guangzhou, which was the popular tea in the German market then. However, Hankou tea was often not supplied because of its long transporting way from Hankou to St. Petersburg, only tea picked and processed the previous year arrived in Germany. Eduard Messmer seized the opportunity to provide the couple and the Prussian aristocracies with the best Hankou tea in the spring of that year. Henceforth, Hankou tea was called Messmer palace tea and became the favorite of senior social circles.


刘文卓,论中国与德国茶贸易历史,茶誉天下,2021(11), 313-319

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