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Tea Culture Was Simplified in the Yuan Dynasty

The skills of tea making had taken a great leap forward in the Song Dynasty, but tea cakes in shapes of the dragon and the phoenix were too luxurious for ordinary people, and at odds with the matural qualities of tea. The Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) was established by the Mongols, who originally were nomadic people in the north of China. In the early Yuan the Mongols could hardly agree to the exquisite culture of the Song, but with the infiltration of the Han culture and out of the need to balance their greasy diet, they gradually accepted the tea culture and simplified it. So tea cakes began to fade out, and other varieties were mass- produced such as tender tea (similar to the modern green tea, whose tea leaves were picked in early spring). dust tea (similar to that used at the present Japanese tea ceremony) and nut tea (with additives like walnut, pine nut, sesame, apricot and chestnut). Nut tea was welcomed among ordinary people. Even today, people in Hunan and Hubei still have the habit of drinking nut tea.

In the Song Dynasty tea was used in various rites by the imperial court and upper class people, while in the Yuan period it moved closer to the everyday life of ordinary people. Actually it was representative of folk customs of the time; for instance, newly married girls showed their respect for parents-in-law and guests by presenting tea, tea was also a common subject in Song paintings such as The Game Tea by Zhao Mengfu, which described the scene of game tea among ordinary people, and the unsigned Steamed Bread and Hot Tea, which vividly portrayed young brothers Making tea and tasting steamed bread together. Such paintings reflect the affinity of tea with people's relationships. In a dynasty with many nationalities like Yuan, this affinity was especially important; no wonder that later tea was widely popularized

The literati of Yuan followed their predecessors in advocating a simple and natural way of holding the tea ceremony. They usually made and drank tea in the hills, by rivers, under ancient trees and in front of thatched cottages. It was a reaction against the luxurious and difficult style of the Song Dynasty, and also a manifestation of Yuan people's wish to return to nature.