Lu Yu and The Classic of Tea

Lu Yu and The Classic of Tea

The Classic of Tea is the first book on tea in the world. It was written by Lu Yu, founder of Chinese tea ceremony. Completed around 750 A.D., it systematically introduced history, producing origins, efficacy, cultivation, harvesting, processing, brewing/infiising methods and drinking of tea in and before the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

Lu Yu, also known by his style name Hongjian, was a native of Jingling of Fuzhou (present-day Tianmen of Hubei Province) lived in the Tang Dynasty.

According to the legend, Lu Yu was an orphan abandoned by his parents. He was adopted by a Buddhist monk, Zen master Zhi Ji, abbot of the Longgai Monastery in Jingling. A smart boy by nature, Lu Yu learnt how to prepare tea for Zhi Ji at eight. When he was 12, he fled the monastery because he was unwilling to become a monk. A theatrical troupe took him in and taught him acting. Though ugly and speaking with a little stutter, he was a successful clown due to his fine sense of humor and resourcefulness. He even wrote three volumes of farces entitled Talk of Jests. Later, his outstanding performance drew the attention of Li Qiwu, mayor of Jingling, who recommended him to Mr. Zou, a learned hermit in Huomenshan.

Lu Yu made some achievements in literature and had great interest in geography and tea. He traveled everywhere ih Hubei Province and Sichuan Province for investigating local geography, tea, and water. To avoid the chaos caused by war, he went to Shengzhou (present-day Nanjing of Jiangsu Province) and lived in the Qixia Temple, where he delved in perfecting his skill in tea. Left the Qixia Temple, he lived as a hermit in Shaoxi (present-day Wuxing of Zhejiang Province) and made friends with the accomplished monk Jiao Ran despite their great age difference. With the help of Jiao Ran, he wholeheartedly carried out investigation and study of the people, history, geography and tea of Wuxing. Finally, he completed his great book The Classic of Tea. He died in Huzhou, a famous hometown of tea.

After his death, Lu Yu was praised as the Sage of Tea.

Before The Classic of Tea came out, tea was normally cooked together with rice and other food. It was seldom consumed as a separate drink. Lu Yu believed that such practice concealed tea's natural aroma. He thus recommended direct tea drinking in his The Classsic of Tea, which has since remained as the commonest tea drinking method. The advent of The Classic of Tea promoted the popularity of tea drinking and upgraded the art of tea drinking.

The Classic of Tea has ten chapters. They are "Chapter One: The Origin of Tea", "Chapter Two: Tools of Tea-Production", "Chapter Three: Process of Producing Tea", "Chapter Four: Tea Wares", "Chapter Five: Tea Brewing/ Infusing Methods", "Chapter Six: Ways of Tea-Drinking", "Chapter Seven: Anecdotes of Tea", "Chapter Eight: Tea Producing Regions", "Chapter Nine: Omissions of Tea Making", "Chapter Ten: Illustrauions of Tea".

"Chapter One: The Origin of Tea" introduces the origin, forms, names, quality, and efficacy of tea.

"Chapter Two: Tools of Tea-production" introduces the tools used for picking and producing tea and their usage.

"Chapter Three: Process of Producing Tea" introduces the methods of picking, processing, classifying and differentiating for the steamed green tea.

"Chapter Four: Tea Wares" expounds in detail on the names, shapes, structures, sizes, producing methods and purposes of the tea wares for brewing and drinking tea, and their impact on tea. It also discusses the quality of the tea sets in different places and their use rules.

"Chapter Five: Tea Brewing/Infixsing Methods" introduces the tea baking method, ideal water for tea brewing and proper heat condition for tea boiling. As well as different phases of water boiling and methods affect the color, aroma, and taste of the tea.

"Chapter Six: Ways of Tea-Drinking" introduces the entire process from tea leaves picking to tea drinking and the points for attention.

"Chapter Seven: Anecdotes of Tea" introduces the tea-related affairs during the 3,000-year period about some historical figures from Shen Nong to Xu Ji. By quoting the tea-related historical data before the Tang Dynasty (618-907), including legends, allusions, poems and verses, essays and prescriptions. It gives the profile of tea drinking custom in Chinese society before the Tang Dynasty.

"Chapter Eight: Tea Producing Regions" contains Lu Yu's appraisal of teas from different regions based on his personal investigation. According to his division, there were eight major tea-producing regions in the Tang Dynasty (618-907): Shannan (the area south of Mt. Gangdisi and Mt. Nianqingtanggula), Huainan (the area south of the Huaihe River), Zhexi (the area west of Zhejiang Province), Jiannan (the area northwest of Chengdu Plain), Zhedong (the area east of Zhejiang Province), Qianzhong (the center of Guizhou Province), Jiangnan (the area south of the Yangtze River), and Lingnan (the area south of China's five southern mountains). Lu Yu graded teas from these regions into four levels, namely top, medium, low, and lowest.

"Chapter Nine: Omissions of Tea Making" introduces some gongfu tea sets, tea wares, tea making steps can be omitted according to different conditions and times.

"Chapter Ten: Illustrations of Tea" teaches people copy the above nine chapters on four or six pieces of white silk and put them on the wall. Therefore, the contents of The Classic of Tea would be clear at a glance. It would be easier to remember the origin of tea, tea-producing tools,tea picking and processing,tea wares, tea-making methods, tea drinking, anecdotes of tea, tea producing regions and omissions of tea sets.