For thousands of years, Chinese have been harvesting and processing the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant and have developed a whole system of knowledge about its cultivation. For thousands of years, tea has been roasted, boiled, steamed, blended, used as a medicine and simply drunk as a refreshing drink. Even nowadays, China is a leader in the cultivation, production and consumption of tea.
It is considered that tea culture in China has about five-thousand-year-old history. From freshly plucked leaves boiled like soup to the nowadays six major varieties, tea spread to all parts of the world and became most consumed beverage after water. The origin of tea is lost on the border between history and legend. It is considered that tea comes from the southwest of China, Yunnan province, where can be found ancient tea trees that are more than 1000 years old. Tea plant was always appreciated for its medical properties.
During the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC), the refreshing properties of tea and the clearing of the mind gradually supplanted its medicinal qualities. People are starting to dry tea leaves for better storage. When they make tea, they put the leaves in a cauldron and boil like a soup.
During the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), the harvesting and processing of tea leaves were improved. Tea becomes a delicious drink popular among the nobles.
By the time of Wei (220-265 AD) and Jin (265-420 AD), when philosophical discourse is in vogue and people are more interested in tea than wine, tea becomes the drink of choice for dinner parties. People prefer the freshness and purity of tea. Buddhism and Taoism also played an important role in the spread of tea. The Buddhists liked tea because it invigorates, while the Taoists believed that tea helps people stay young and healthy.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD), was discovered a “Steaming” method that rid the tea leaves of the bitter grassy taste. People harvested tea leaves, steamed them, made cakes, dried them and packed them for storage. Tea got its hieroglyph 茶 "Cha" (Tea), consists of three keys. The lower one is a 'tree', the upper one is 'grass' and between them is a 'person'. All this together implies a harmony between the human being and nature. During this period, were opened first tea houses and tea shops, a lot of poets and philosophers mentioned tea in theirs works and tea becomes one of the most important items in international trade.
The Song Dynasty (960-1279) is truly the golden age of tea. Tea culture flourished even more. Tea production methods are being changed and pottery art is being developed. The tradition of the tea ceremony was formed. In Fujian province tea growers began the tradition of "tea competitions". The best Chinese tea presented by the farmers was sent to the emperor.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) tea culture experienced its renaissance. The production of black, green and oolong teas has been improved. Pressed tea was replaced by loose tea and this tradition has survived to our days. With the accumulation of knowledge about tea, people gradually move away from picking wild tea leaves and begin to develop tea gardens. The processing of the tea leaves becomes more complex. All six main types of tea are created. Drinking tea becomes a spiritual, containing a deep cultural meaning. As the popularity of tea grows, people in different regions are developing their own unique ways of drinking tea.
The diverse of traditions make up the richness and glory of Chinese tea culture. Each historical phase gives a new impulse to the tea, each ideological trend renews the relationship with tea, each local ethnic group has its own specific understanding of tea. From harvesting, processing, preparation and consuming, every step embodies a deep cultural meaning. The Chinese discovered tea and it gradually changed life in China. Tea is much more than an ordinary drink. The soul and power of tea is deeply imprinted in the Chinese national character.
To learn more about CHINESE TEA Cultivation, Processing and Classification check out our article HIGHEST MASTERY TEA.