By Frank Yip
Tea drinking had come a long way when Tang Dynasty was established in
China (618 - 907), one thousand years after the Eastern Han Dynasty.
It blossomed in the vast Middle Kingdom for several reasons: peace,
prosperity, imperial encouragement, a leisure class and last but not
least, the superman effort of one man, Lu Yu (733-804), who was named
the Tea Saint by his emperor.
Peace and prosperity enabled the economy and industries to develop,
grow and expand. Consequently, tea plantation proliforated and tea
parties, a commonplace. People beagn to make tea (in cake form to be
broken into piecesand further into powder before use) according to
their personal tastes: plain, spiced or salted
Professional tea masters burst onto the scene, responsible for
selecting the best tea, in addition to quality water (usually casted
over great distances), expansive implements (many made of silver, some
of gold) and high grade charcoal so as to give little or no obnoxious
But it was Lu Yu, an orphan and a monk at the age of ten, who had
formalised and perfected the tea drinking habit of the time. After
spending over 30 years planting tea, packing it and visiting countless
tea plantations and water sources (streams, wells and lakes), the
result is a 3 volume classic on tea with the do's and don't's on tea
drinking and culture.
Lu Yu's tea drinking procedure is a three-step one involving the use of
24 relevant tea-related implements. First, he would advise: roast the
tea to a goldenm colour to attainthe fragrant smell from small pieces
broken from the tea cake, then roll them into a powder form before
further sieving to arrive at the fine powder desired. Secondly, select
the best quality water and charcoal. Thirdly, boil the water to a
piping hot temperature before mixing the powder and the boiling water.
The implements used, ranging from baskets, containers, fine tongs,
ladles, pots and pans, cups and bowls, should meet the strictest
requirements of quality, dryness (keep dry when not used) and
cleanliness (after use).
According to him, the best teas grow on misty mountain tops, the best
water from mountain streams (the Jade Stream Mountain near Beijing
being one of the four he had graded) and the best taste comes from the
first sip. He advised not to derink after the seventh cup, if one
wishes to attain the status of an immortal.
Because of the superior tea culture of Tang, and one no less fine-tuned
by monks whose business it was to dig into ancient Buddhist scriptures
to find the Truth and, in the process, to keep them awake at night by
drinking tea. Foreigners were more than impressed and began flocking to
China to learn it and to bring it home for physical and spiritual
Japan then was embarking on cultural re-construction and thought that
she had a lot to learn from the Chinese. Hence, droves of government
officials, students and monks were sent to Changan the capital to pick
up tips on things Chinese. Many of the cultural relics brought home at
that time have become priceless treasures.
In addition to Japan, Korea, Vietnam and countries in the Middle East
and beyond also got their tea, the latter via camel caravans trekking
the Silk Road.
As the epitome of Chinese culture and history, Tang Dynasty is
remembered today by some Chinese, overseas Chinese included, who called
themselves Tang-men and China, Tang-san (mountain, i.e. country).