China's tea culture took its initial shape in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the heyday of China's feudal age. The economic, social and cultural prosperity and busy foreign exchanges at that time provided rich soil for the sprouting of the splendid tea culture of Tang.
During the period the tea plant was cultivated in 42 prefectures of the country, and the habit of drinking tea had filtered into the daily life of people of all social ranks and classes. Emperors of the later Tang, who were especially fond of tea, ordered the tea-producing areas to send their earliest tea, which was also the best,to the palace, where a grand banquet was held on 5 April every year to celebrate the Qingming Festival, the Han festival to honor the dead, which is also called Plant Festival. Some officials even got promoted because they paid the tea tribute. A satirical ballad ran: "The father wins promotion through tea, which also brings the son riches; hence why don't the intellectuals go a short cut like this instead of troubling so much to study the Spring and Autumn and A Horseback Diagram from the Yellow River?" To win the emperor's love, imperial concubines racked their brains to improve the art of making tea, and gradually a game called tea competition was developed among them. In the Tang Dynasty intellectuals aiming to secure official positions had to go through strict examinations, the final of which was held in the capital and directly presided over by the emperor In the exam, supervised by many court officials,candidates were shut in separate rooms to avoid cheating and only allowed to take some solid food with them. The only exception was tea which could be sent to each room for the example to refresh himself. Princes and ministers, following the example of the emperor, took pride in their good taste for tea. Li Deyu, the grand councilor, even took the trouble to use the best spring water from thousands of miles away to make a cup of tea. It was customary to receive guests with tea and regarded as most impolite not to do so.
Drinking tea by Chinese tea set was initially advocated by intellectuals, and the habit as well as the art of poetry prospered during the Tang Dynasty.Liquor had always been used by poets to encourage themselves to write, but in the Tang Dynasty alcohol was officially prohibited and production greatly reduced, because it needed too much grain. So tea, a much cheaper stimulant, was used as an alternative. At the time Buddhism was flourishing, and monks in temples were required to sit in meditation in the evening without supper. But young monks always found it difficult. So the Lingyan Temple at Mount Tai made an exception, allowing the monks to have tea during the evening practice. It was not long before the measure spread across the temples of the whole country and became common. Gradually tea also became a sacrifice to the Buddha and a special beverage for distinguished visitors. Because of the large consumption of tea, temples began to grow tea plants themselves. Because they were mostly located in mountains with plentiful rainfall and sunshine, temples always produced tea of good quality. It was also no coincidence that Taoists, who also lived in seclusion in mountains, had a green thumb as well as a good taste for tea.
With the popularity of drinking tea among ordinary people, tea shops appeared everywhere, even in the Central Plains provinces,such as Shandong, Hunan and Shanxi, where tea production was comparatively low.
The tea trade, a useful means for the Tang Dynasty to increase state revenue, was also employed to promote exchanges with neighboring ethnic groups. Bartering tea for horses was very common in border areas at the time.
The Tang people's universal love for tea gave impetus to research into tea. Ten main functions of tea were summarized as follows:
1. Tea is beneficial to health and able to dredge body channel sand relieve headaches, xerophthalmia and fatigue;
2. Tea can help dispel the effects of alcohol and quit drinking;
3. Tea, when dressed with sauces, can serve as nourishing;
3. Tea, when dressed with sauces, can serve as nourishing "porridge" to allay hunger;
4. Tea can help drive away summer heat;
5. Tea, a good refresher, can help shake off drowsiness;
6. Tea can help people to purify themselves and eliminate worries;
7. Tea can help the digestion of greasy food, making it indispensable in the life of Chinese ethnic minority people, whose staple foods are meat and milk products;
8. Tea can be used to eliminate toxins from the body;
9. Tea is conducive to longevity;
10. Tea can aid self knowledge.