Introducing the Tea (Cha )
Tea, a drink pioneered by the Chinese, is brewed by infusing tender buds picked from tea trees in boiled water after baking. Legend has it that tea was first discovered by Emperor Shennong 5,500-6,000 years ago, who tasted hundreds of herbal medicines to test their medicinal power in southwest China. Tea was originally used for detoxification and meant to be chewed in the mouth. Later, people began to steep it in water. Maybe because the drink has a slightly bitter taste, it was called “tu” (meaning “a bitter edible plant”) before the Qin (221-207BC) and Han (202BC-220AD) dynasties and wasn’t officially named “tea” until the Han Dynasty.
In the Han Dynasty, the Chinese already knew a lot about tea and gained a wealth of experiences, including tea species, baking skills, infusing, water selection, tea utensils and ways to use them etc, initially forming a set of tea drinking etiquette and customs. Meanwhile, along with the development of trade links with neighboring and central Asian countries, Chinese tea was among the goods envoys of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty brought to other parts of the world via “the Silk Road”.
In the Tang Dynasty (618-907), rich experiences in the tea culture had been accumulated. Around 758, a man named Lu Yu wrote Cha Ching (Classic of Tea), in which he summarized the knowledge and techniques about tea before and after the Tang Dynasty, including the history, production places, effects, cultivation, picking, baking and drinking etc.
In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), tea drinking became more popular. Tea houses were everywhere in the capital city Bianliang and those carrying a kettle for tea making were called “tea doctors”. Since the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, drinking tea has not only been an elegant hobby shared by high-ranking officials, scholars and ordinary people, but also been enjoyed by people across the world.
The four types of tea most commonly found on the market are black tea, oolong tea, green tea and white tea, all of which can be made from the same bushes, processed differently, and, in the case of fine white tea, grown differently. Pu-erh tea, a post-fermented tea, is also often used medicinally.
Customs in Tea Drinking
It is Chinese traditional custom that a host has to serve a visiting guest a cup of tea firstly when he enters his house. A poem by Du Luei of Tang times shows an aspect of the function of tea: "Guests coming in, in the cold, cold night, I serve cups of hot tea in the place of warm wine".
How to serve the cup of tea to a visiting friend differs from place to place in China. In Jiangsu and Zhejing provinces, a porcelain cup or a glass tumbler is used to brew Longjing, Biluochun, Maojian or just ordinary green tea. Chrysanthemum tea is sometimes used in hot summer season to reduce the hot from outside. During the Spring Festival, in some well-off families the guests may be entertained with Yuanbao tea (gold-ingot tea) to two fresh olives submerged in the tea to bestow blessings. Hosts in the northern provinces usually entertain their guests with a cup of scented tea, which is very popular in north China.While in the colder north-eastern provinces, the enthusiastic hosts would provide warm black tea with sugar added to ensure warmth.In some coastal provinces such as Guangdong and Fujian, a pot of Oolong tea, congou tea or Pu-er tea is the usual treat. Serving tea to guests is a common practice among the 56 ethnic nationalities in China. But in the border districts different tea is used. In Mongolia, a guest is entertained with yoghurt tea.