Tea is a friend of meditation, keeping the heart immerged in profound tranquility. Tea is wings of imagination, lifting people above the mundane world while remaining dear minded, getting people nearer wisdom rather than losing sanity. Therefore in nearly every Eastern country people have the same habit of drinking tea, because people in the east need this simple but not insipid drink. This is a tradition of life as well as of culture, just like the Eastern wisdom that they admire, which is featured in the spirit of self-reflection.
Because of their different producing techniques, Chinese tea is divided into six major types - green tea, black tea, oolong tea, dark tea, yellow tea and white tea. Some people say that green tea, simple and light, stands for the scholasticity of south China; black tea, mild and reserved, is quite ladylike; oolong tea, warm and persistent resembles the perseverance of gymnosophists; dark tea, with lingering aftertaste, symbolizes the wisdom of the elderly, and so on and so forth.
China is the homeland of tea, taking a leading position in the planting, producing and drinking of tea. The discovery and usage of tea has had a history of four or five thousand years in China. From the earliest fresh-boiled tea taken as a kind of soup to later dried-and-preserved tea, from the simple green tea to the blooming of six major kinds of tea, tea, which started catching on in the Tang (618-906) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, has carried itself to the contemporary times. The flavor of tea, which is sometimes thin and sometimes times seemingly bitter but actually sweet has flown throughout the long history from ancient times up to now. What is more, with its unique appeal, tea has broken the bound of fields and been brought to all parts of the world.
The origin of tea is lost among history and legends. What can be roughly confirmed is that tea originated in the southwest of China, In Yunnan and other places there still exist wild tea trees over 1,000 years old. It is said that the first man to discover what tea can do is Shen Nong - the fattier of agriculture and herbal medicine in China. In time immemorial, people knew very little about plants. In order to find out which plants could be eaten and which couldn't, Shen Nong tasted various kinds of plants to find out their features as food or medicine. Fortunately, Shen Nong had a transparent stomach, which made it possible for him, after he had eaten the plants, to observe the reactions m his stomach caused by them. That is where the famous story of "Shen Nong Tasting A Hundred Plants" came from. One day, after walking for a long time, Shen Nong felt tired and thirsty, so he rested under a tree and started a fire to boil water. Suddenly same tree leaves fell into the water hollowware on the fire. Shen Nong drank the water and found it not only sweet and tasteful, but freshening as well. He found his exhaustion all gone, so finished all the water in the hollowware. Another tale is a little different from this one,but more amazing. It is said that Shen Nong tried 72 different kinds of poisonous plants in a day and he lay on the ground, barely alive. At this moment, he noticed several leaves dropping from the tree beside him, giving off gusts of fragrance. What with curiosity and with habit, Shen Nong put the leaves in his mouth and chewed them- After a little while, he felt well and energetic again. So he picked more leaves to eat and thus cleared all the poison in his body. Whatever way the story goes, tea interested Shen Nong and attracted him to do further research on its characteristics. The ancient Chinese medical book called Shen Nong Herbal, which is attributed to Shen Nong, says that "tea tastes bitter. Drinking it, one can think quicker, sleep less, move lighter, and see clearer." That is the earliest book to put down the medical functions of tea.
When it came to the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC), the function of tea to freshen one’s body and dear one’s mind gradually replaced its function as medicine. People started drying tea leaves to better preserve it. When they made tea, they put the leaves into the hollowware and made a kind of thick soup. The princes of the Zhou Dynasty were used to this thick soup, but due to its bitterness, it didn't catch on.
In the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), both the collecting and processing of wild tea leaves were improved. Tea became a tasteful drink and was fancied by the nobles, and it became very popular among them. In the time of Wei (220-265) and Jin (265-420), when metaphysics came into fashion and people got interested in talking, tea, in place of wine, has became the drink of banquet People preferred tea's freshness and purity to wine's violence and intoxication. The last emperor of the Three-Kingdom time (220-280) is Sun Hao (reign from 264 to 280)- He asked his ministers to drink six liters of wine every time he held a banquet One minister was not good at drinking, so he secretly asked Sun if he could drink tea instead. In fact the relationship between tea and wine has always been subtle. Wine drinking needs a hilarious environment while tea drinking prefers quietness. They are different in many aspects, but they are also the but partners because tea can quench one's drunkenness. In later times, this unity of opposites between tea and wine was reflected in a dialogue between them in a book called On Tea and Wine.
It can be seen that to this time, tea hag been spread from the kingdom of Shu (221-263) to the lower reaches of Yangtze River, In the time of Eastern and Western Jins and Northern and Southern dynasties (265-589), rulers advocated drinking tea and eating simple food in order to restrain the competition in extravagance among nobles. Buddhism and Taoism played an indispensable role in the spreading of tea. Buddhists liked tea because it prevented people from dreariness and languor, while Taoists believed that tea helped people stay young and become immortal. At that time people began making tea cakes from tea leaves. When they wanted to make tea, they ground the cakes into powder and put it, along with other condiments, into hot water.
It is said in history that "tea started in the Tang Dynasty and flourished in the Song Dynasty." People in the Tang Dynasty invented a method called "Steaming Green" to get rid of the flavor of grass from tea leaves. They picked tea leaves, ground them after steaming, made them into cakes, dried them and then sealed them up for keeping. There were many ways to call tea before Tang. One of them was 茶, a Chinese character meaning bitter. Tang people crossed off one stroke and changed it Into This character has many interesting connotations in its shape. Its bottom is 木, meaning wood; the top is 艹, meaning grass; between them is 人, meaning people. This suggests the harmony between human being and nature. It was also in Tang that teahouse in its real sense came into being, In some big cities were tea shops. They made tea for their customers and the tea leaves in their shops were mountainous. Poems and articles dedicated to tea also appeared. A large group of poets like Lu Tong and Bai Juyi all wrote about tea. Furthermore, Tang possessed the first definitive commentary on tea-The Book of Tea, which was the first of its kind in China and in the world as well. The book, which contained a comprehensive summary of all aspects of the culture of tea, including medical function picking, making, cookings utensil, etc, was then a complete expression of knowledge on tea. Its autho - Lu Yu (733-C.804) was consequently called "Saint of Tea" by later generations. During this period, tea became the most popular commodity in foreign trade. Japanese Buddhists in China brought tea leaves back to Japan. For the sake of easier transportation, tea leaves were made into bricks. People broke a little piece when they wanted to drink tea.
The Song Dynasty was a golden age for tea. The business of teahouse was even more blooming. The calligrapher Cai Xiang (1012-1067) wrote Record of Tea and Emperor Huizong - Zhao Ji (1082-1135) wrote General Remarks art Tea. When the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) succeeded, the tea culture, which was once damaged by the Mongolians, underwent a renaissance. The familiar dark tea, green tea, and oolong tea were all developed during this time. Zhu Yuanzhang (reign from 1368 to 1398), the first emperor of Ming, changed roll tea to loose tea, and the tradition has been kept ever since.
With the ever better understanding of tea, people were no longer contented with picking wild tea leaves, but opened tea gardens and planted tea trees. Processing of tea was also getting mature. Furthermore, due to the different processing methods,there appeared six major types of tea. Nor did people continue to take tea as food or medicine. Drinking tea became a spiritual containing deep cultural meanings. The tea ceremony in China consists of not only the choice of tea, but many other elements such as water, utensil, time, occasion, etc. There are also detailed requirements for the drinkers. Meanwhile, In the process of the popularization of tea, people in different regions and of different nationalities have developed their unique custom of tea drinking. Guangdong people like drinking morning tea, Fujian people prefer Kongfu tea, Hunan has Lei tea, Sichuan people love covered-bowl tea, people of Bai nationality treat guests with "Three-Course Tea," Tibetan people prefer buttered tea and Inner-Mongolian people like milk tea.., The various tea customs constitute the rich and profound Chinese tea culture.
The wonderful tea leaves were spread to all parts of the world through intercourse among nations. Japanese Monks took tea seeds, techniques of tea making, and tea utensils back to Japan, which led to the appearance of Japanese tea ceremony. The easiest record of tea in Europe was in the travel notes of an Arab. Marco Polo mentioned in his notes that a Chinese minister of fiancee was deposed because he excessively levied taxes on tea. At the end of the 16 th century, the Dutch brought such a message to Europe that there was a kind of magic leaves in the east, from which tasty drinks could be made. That was the first time that the Europeans heard of tea. In 1610, East India Company was the first to sell tea to Europe, after which the habit of drinking tea took root them In 1636, tea entered France and two years later, it entered Russia, whereas the big tea-consuming Britain didn't have tea until 1650.
Currently over 450 chemical substances have been discovered in tea, some of which are microelements capable of supplementing nutrient substances needed by human body and some other can prevent or cure diseases. Green tea is a nutritious drink full of vitamins. It contains a kind of hydroxybenzene, which can retrain cancer cell and thus prevent or resist cancer. Oolong can control the absorption of dextrose by human body, and can help lose weight. Black tea is mild, which is good for phlegm reducing, digesting, and arousing appetite, especially good for people with weak spleen and stomach. Pu'er tea can prevent cardiovascular diseases, and has been internationally known as "Tea of Longevity" for a long time. Tea leaves are also helpful in radiation prevention, which is especially suitable for people who have constant contact with computers.
Coming to the 21st century, tea is no longer confined as drinks. The essence of tea is often found in shampoo, toothpaste, and other daily necessities. Health care products like ointment also contain tea. The story of tea is far from over.