5. June 2017

Tea Ceremony


Drinking tea is a part of the Chinese culture for thousands of years. According to the legend, the emperor Shen Nong 神农 together with the Yellow Emperor discovered tea, when one day leaves of a bush in the palace garden fell in Shen Nong’s drinking water, the water turned into a golden brown color and the emperor drank this beverage which gave a sweet flavored taste. Since 3000 years ago, Chinese have boiled drinking water and flavored it with tea leaves and herbal additives by the Boiled Tea Method 煮茶法.

Shen Nong Tastes Tea by Daoist Dezhong

Chinese family has a tradition of serve tea to guests, regarding to the Daoist Scriptures, this tradition is from Daoism. In the Spring and Autumn period, when Laozi (Lao-tzu) left Hangu strategic pass, he asked the pass guard Yin Xi to welcome him at home and could serve him tea firstly “首献茗”, Laozi said, people who appreciate tea after eating, you are all on the same way, they should be all disciples of Daoism “食是茶者,皆汝之道徒也”. Laozi was the first person who treated tea as the daoists’ hospitality and brought tea into daoist and Chinese traditional rites.

Laozi Chu Guan 老子出关- Laozi rode a green ox to the west of Hangu pass by Wenzhuo Liu

Tea existed in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-467 BC) when Laozi and Confucius lived. Although there are few records about tea in that period, the Confucianism founded by Confucius has a positive significance and important role in guiding people to carry out tea activities, leading the development of tea and deepening the connotation of tea culture, especially in tea art, tea ceremony, tea morality, tea customs and so on. Tea leaves were normally cooked thoroughly with ginger, scallion, jujube, mandarin peel and mint etc., then people eat, drink and swallow them all. Lu Yu ignored this method of tea making and thought it was like sewage “斯沟渠间弃水”. From the point of view of food science, this tea making method certainly destroys the aroma of tea, but it is the most thorough use of tea nutrients. At least, adding some ginger can neutralize the cold nature of tea, which is good for people’s spleen and stomach.

Confucius 孔子 by Wenzhuo Liu

History shows that there was already a tax on tea during the Qin Dynasty (221- 207 B.C.), tea was then primarily used as a medicine. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), tea was increasingly drunk as tea beverages using the An Tea Method 庵茶法 at the imperial court and thus introduced into the upper class, which had been shown on the painting “Tang Palace Musicians 唐人宫乐图”. Put some tea powder in a tea jar and brew it with boiling water, Tang people thought that using this kind of tea method tea was not fully cooked and could only be drunk but not eaten, so they called it half-cooked tea. A similar tea making method was gradually popular in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it seems to have something to do with this tea making method.

Tang Palace Musicians Drawing 唐人宫乐图 by anonymous

Another tea brewing way in Tang dynasty is the Fired Tea Method 煎茶法, put tea powder into water when it is first boiling, take tea soup to drink after the second boiling, and add salt to taste properly. Lu Tong’s famous poem <Seven Bowls of Tea 七碗茶> was written after he had tea with this fried tea way. He fried tea at home and enjoyed it alone, he praised both the quality of tea and the skill of frying tea.

The picture of Tuning the Qin and Sipping Tea, it is easy to understand “tuning the Qin”. What is “sipping tea”? We all talk about “drinking tea”, “drinking tea” and “tasting tea”, but we seldom say “sipping tea”. Let the tea soup and air roll in the mouth to drink, this is “sipping”. Why sip? Because the tea is very hot. We know that the way of drinking tea in Tang Dynasty is different from that of brewing tea today, but cooking tea. The temperature of tea soup is naturally very high. The beauty in the painting obviously didn’t wait for the tea to cool, which can be seen from their tea drinking posture.

Tuning the Qin and Sipping Tea Drawing 调琴啜茗图 by Zhou Fang

Monks in Buddhist monasteries began drinking tea during their often long hours meditations in order to stay awake. It’s also true that the monks every morning drank tea and flushed their mouth as they had no toothbrushes, since the tea had a purifying and refreshing effect. This behavior is said to have been first introduced in the Yang Ling Monastery on Mount. Tai and have spread from there to other monasteries. After some time, the monks began to cultivate tea, the world’s first book on tea was written <the the classic of tea 茶经> by Lu Yu 陆羽 (733—804), who grew up as an orphan in a Buddhist monastery, his nickname “The Saint of Tea”. This Fired Tea Method was advocated by Lu Yu.

500 Arhat Drawing 五百罗汉图 by Zhou Jichang and Lin Tingwei

In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), most upper class families enjoyed 龙凤团茶 [lóng fèng tuán chá] tea cakes with dragon and phoenix patterns and Tea-  Competitions 斗茶 “Tea fights 斗茶图” became polular, in order to determine the best teas in the country. At the same time the art of making tea has been developed by the Whisked Tea Method 点茶法.

Grinding Tea Picture 撵茶图 by Liu Songnian

“Grinding Tea Picture 撵茶图” was painted by Liu Songnian 刘松年 1155-1218). Su Shi 苏轼 wrote <Peach Blossom Tea 桃花茶>, described the beauty of tea harvest and this method. The book written by Zhao Ji 赵佶  (1082-1135) – the 8th Emperor of Song reign, <Treatise on Tea 大观茶论> described the mainstream of tea ceremonies at that time. In the Yuan Dynasty, this method spread throughout the population.

During the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Quan, the 17th son of Ming Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, who wrote the tea book <Tea Notes 茶谱> and led a reclusive life as a hermit, then founded a new school of tea ceremony, the Infused Tea Method 撮泡法. The book written by Xu Cishu 许次纾 (1549-1604), <Tea Commentary 茶疏> focued on tea artistic conceptions, and <Tea Theory 茶说> laid the the foundation of tea organoleptic evaluation in 1615 from Huang Longde 黄龙德 (late Qing reign).

Tea Tasting Scroll 品茶图轴 also callled Stop Qin and Taste Tea drawing 停琴品茗图, two people sit opposite each other, as if they were a host and a guest. The banana leaves pave the ground, the host sits on it, the side place teapot, the furnace charcoal fire is blazing. Guest sit on a strange stone, and another strange stone for the Qin stage, Guqin has been packed in the brocade set. At this time, the strings are resting, the tea is brewed, two people holding tea cup, four eyes looking at each other, smelling fragrance and sipping tea, as if the Qin music is still there. The pleasure is left to the reader’s reverie. After reading Chen Hongshou’s Tea Tasting Scroll, at least three informations about the tea ceremony in Ming Dynasty can be found.

Stop Qin and Taste Tea drawing 停琴品茗图 by Chen Hongshou

First, the Infused Tea Method of Ming Dynasty was popular. In Ming Dynasty, the mainstream of Chinese tea production was changed from round cake tea to loose tea, from steamed green to fried green tea. As a result, the way of tasting tea was changed from cooking or whisking tea to brewing tea in whole leaves. In the painting of Tea Tasting Scroll, there is a single handle flat bottom teapot on the tea stove, and there is a Zisha teapot beside the stove. Obviously, the teapot on the stove is boiling water, the teapot beside the stove is making tea, and the tea tasting cup is on both hands.

Second, the  pot tea set entered the prosperous period. Yixing’s Zisha pottery can be traced back to the Tang and Song Dynasties, even earlier in the Eastern Wu and Western Jin Dynasties. But at that time, the Zisha pottery had little to do with tea, or it was just a kind of utensil for taking water and holding water. Zisha pottery flourished because of the need to produce and drink tea. With the rise of loose tea in Ming Dynasty, the new method of making tea was popular, and a teapot for making tea really appeared. Because of its good practical function, the Zisha teapot is popular with the literati and some of them participate in the design and production of the teapots. In the poems and paintings of Ming Dynasty, there are many praises or descriptions of Zisha teapots.

Thirdly, literati pay attention to the choice and construction of the tea drinking environment. The painting of Tea Tasting depicts a natural and elegant tea scene, its characteristic is to see nature in the artificial world. The strange stones for sitting, the wonderful stones for playing Qin, the big banana leaves and the lotus flowers in full bloom, they give people a natural and fresh feeling. The literati in Ming Dynasty pursued the cultural atmosphere and seclusion of tea realm.

Therefore, the experts of Chinese tea culture distinguish five historical schools of tea ceremony 茶道 [chá dào]: Boiled Tea Method 煮茶法 [zhǔ chá fǎ] and An Tea Method 庵茶法 [ān chá fǎ]. In the Tang period, tea was boiled along with the water until the water took the right color, wherein fired and grinded tea was used. Since this tea liquid was added a pinch of salt, this method is also called “school of salted Pulvertees” Fired Tea Method 煎茶法  [jiān chá fǎ]. During the Song Dynasty, the art of tea has been refined, the tea powder should be infused with hot water and beat up with a bamboo whisk until frothy, a master work was that foams remained as long as possible. This method is called the “School of the foamed Jade” Whisked Tea Method 点茶法 [diǎn chá fǎ]. In the Ming period, loose dry tea leaves were used, directly pour hot water on, this method is called the “School of the fragrant leaf” Infused Tea Method 撮泡法 [cuō pào fǎ], which was also recorded in Xu Wei‘s 徐渭 (1521-1593 poem) <Seven Categories of Making Tea 煎茶七类>), this method is very similar to the tea methods nowadays.

Seven Categories of Making Tea 煎茶七类 by Xu Wei