By Frank Yip
The Chinese would not give up his daily cups of tea for his
life, so claimed a Xian friend last year. If you are a frequent
visitor to China, you cannot agree more with my friend for
practically speaking, the Chinese cannot survive without their
A painter friend who aspires from Shanghai carries his
ubiquitous teapot, with a thermoflask tucked smugly in a bamboo
casting to boot, wherever he moves around. He will drink
directly from its fragile-looking spout whenever he feels it
necessary to quench his thirst.
At any conference in China, almost everyone brings a long his
glass bottle filled with tea, with the green leaves swimming
like the fighting fish we so admired with young. The diehard
habit even goes beyond China's borders when some Chinese go
How long have the Chinese fallen head over heels for tea? The
Chinese would tell you since the days of the legendary Emperor
Chen Nang who lived 4700 years ago. The Japanese would perhaps
dispute this by saying that tea came from India in 519 A.D. when
Indian monk Bodhidharma visited China.
According to Chinese literary seconds, tea became a beverage
during the reign of Emperor Suan of western Han dynasty (49-91
B.C.), i.e. over 500 years before Bodhidharma.
Why are the Chinese so obsessed with tea, a simple-enough plant
which they serve as life's elixir? The typical Chinese tea lover
would give you a long list of beneficial effects of tea, from
reducing fat, trimming figure, driving away fatigue, enabling
longevity, soothing nerves, brightening the eyes, strengthening
the heart, enhancing using flow, killing germs to keeping
cancers at arm's length.
To prove their point they have another list of various teas to
mesmerise you: 60 types of quality green teas, 12 red, five
flower-scented, 11 oolong, 2 white, 6 yellow, 5 packed, 4 black
and 1 easily dissolved type to make you healthy.
As quality teas they are expensive and the costliest may burn a
hole in your pocket, at a cool one thousand Singapore dollars
(S$1000) a kilo. Luckily most teas are affordable.
Tea drinking has come a long way, with its many etiquette and
implements. Even if you are not impressed by tea, you would not
escape the impressive array and beauty of the tea wares through
the ages, i.e. from the Neolithic times (see article in this
column in the near future) to the present day.
Many of these tea cups, tea pots, tea trays and other incidental
apparatus have become collectors' items and much sought after.
For example, a Song dynasty (960-1280) imperial used cup of
lustrous green, if even available in the auction market, would
quite easily cost you a million dollars.
Do not let this dampen you enthusiasm in cultivating the tea
drinking habit. You can spend less than $20 to get a modern set
of Chinese tea wares from a curios shop to start drinking your woes
away with, of course, your choice of tea and plenty of boiling