History of Tea
The history of tea in China is long and complex. The Chinese have enjoyed tea for millennia. Scholars hailed the brew as a cure for a variety of ailments; the nobility considered the consumption of good tea as a mark of their status, and the common people simply enjoyed its flavor.
According to legend, tea was first discovered by the Chinese emperor and inventor Shennong in 2737 BCE. It is said that the emperor liked his drinking water boiled before he drank it so it would be clean, so that is what his servants did. One day, on a trip to a distant region, he and his army stopped to rest. A servant began boiling water for him to drink, and a dead leaf from the wild tea bush fell into the water. It turned a brownish color, but it was unnoticed and presented to the emperor anyway. The emperor drank it and found it very refreshing, and cha (tea) came into being.
The Erya, a Chinese dictionary dated to the 3rd century BCE, records that an infusion of some kind of leaf was used as early as the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE).
While historically the origin of tea as a medicinal herb useful for staying awake is unclear, China is considered to have the earliest records of tea drinking, with recorded tea use in its history dating back to the first millennium BC. The Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) used tea as medicine. The use of tea as a beverage drunk for pleasure on social occasions dates from the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD) or earlier.
The Tang Dynasty writer Lu Yu‘s (729-804) Cha Jing is an early work on the subject. (See also Tea Classics) According to Cha Jing writing, around CE 760, tea drinking was widespread. The book describes how tea plants were grown, the leaves processed, and tea prepared as a beverage. It also describes how tea was evaluated. The book also discusses where the best tea leaves were produced.
At this time in tea's history, the nature of the beverage and style of tea preparation were quite different from the way we experience tea today. Tea leaves were processed into compressed cakes form. The dried teacake, generally called brick tea was ground in a stone mortar. Hot water was added to the powdered teacake, or the powdered teacake was boiled in earthenware kettles then consumed as a hot beverage.
A form of compressed tea referred to as white tea was being produced as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). This special white tea of Tang was picked in early spring, when the tea bushes had abundant growths which resembled silver needles. These "first flushes" were used as the raw material to make the compressed tea.
Roasting and Brewing
Steaming tea leaves was the primary process used for centuries in the preparation of tea. After the transition from compressed tea, the production of tea for trade and distribution changed once again. The Chinese learned to process tea in a different way in the mid-13th century. Tea leaves were roasted rather than steamed. This is the origin of today's loose teas and the practice of brewed tea.
After cutting, tea is subjected to a so-called "fermentation." This process is not actually a fermentation, which is an anaerobic process, but rather an enzymatic oxidization of the polyphenols in the tea leaves, yielding theaflavins and thearubigins. When the tea leaves are dry, fermentation stops, allowing some control of the process by manipulation of the drying rate or adding water after drying. Fermentation can also be interrupted by heat, for example by steaming or dry-panning the tea leaves through a technique known as "shaqing” In 17th century China numerous advances were made in tea production. In the southern part of China, tea leaves were sun dried and then half fermented, producing Oolong or "black dragon tea." However, this method was not common in the rest of China.
Tea in Mythology
- Lu Yu wrote in the Classic of Tea or Cha Jing "Tea as a beverage originated with Shennong."
- The medicine book entitled Shennong Ben Cao Jing stated that "Shennong tasted hundreds of herbs, he encountered seventy two poisons daily and used tea as an antidote"
- In Chinese legend, Shennong died in Tea Hill (Chaling County), Hunan.
Origins of the Tea Plant in China
- In 760 AD, Lu Yu already noted: Tea is a grand tree from the South, tall from one, two, and up to several dozen Chi. Some with circumference up two meters (6.6 feet).
- A. Wilson in his exploration of the south east area of China discovered tea bushes up to ten feet tall in mountains in Sichuan
- In 1939, botanists discovered a 7.5 meter (24.6 feet) wild tea tree in Wuchuang county of Guizhou province.
- In 1940, on the Old Eagle mountain of Wuchuang county, a 6.6 (21.7) meter tall wild tea tree was discovered.
- In 1957, a 12 meter (39.4 feet) wild tea tree was discovered in Cheshui county of Guizhou.
- In 1961, one thousand seven hundred years old, thirty two meters (105 feet) tall and more than one meter (3.3 feet) diameter wild tea tree was found in the rain forest of Yunnan, this is the king of tea trees.
- In 1976, a 13 meter (42.3 feet) wild tea tree was found on Daozhen county, on a mountain at 1400 (4600 feet) meter elevation.
- More wild tea trees were found in the mountains of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou provinces, many of them more than ten meters tall.
Mass Production of White Tea
Modern-day white teas can be traced to the Qing Dynasty in 1796. Back then, teas were processed and distributed as loose tea that was to be steeped, and they were produced from "chaicha," a mixed-variety tea bush. They differed from other China green teas in that the white tea process did not incorporate de-enzyming by steaming or pan-firing, and the leaves were shaped. The silver needle white teas that were produced from the "chaicha" tea bushes were thin, small and did not have much silvery-white hair.
It wasn't until 1885 that specific varietals of tea bushes were selected to make "Silver Needles" and other white teas. The large, fleshy buds of the "Big White," "Small White" and "Narcissus" tea bushes were selected to make white teas and are still used today as the raw material for the production of white tea. By 1891, the large, silvery-white down-covered Silver Needle was exported, and the production of White Peony started around 1922.
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_history"
Text is released and available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Additional terms may apply.
How To Brew Tea
How Long Will My Tea Last?
Hot Tips for Iced Tea
New Choices for Discerning Palettes
Tea Novice? No Problem!
Tea Tasting Terms
Welcome to Kally Tea. We have to admit, once we started drinking loose leaf tea, it quickly turned from a pleasurable delight to a serious passion. We have discovered that drinking loose leaf tea has made us feel better in many ways, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. Black tea, either straight, or flavored, fulfills our morning get-up-and-go-needs. Green tea, as well as white tea, both have a very calming and satisfying effect on the body. Oolong tea, with its distinct taste, is wonderful any time of the day, and is especially enjoyable after a session of Qi Gong. Herbals also provide wonderful health benefits that seem to have been suppressed for many years.
This website represents our long-time passion and vision for how to make a genuine contribution to people’s lives. We are so confident that you will enjoy our offerings of loose leaf tea that we offer this full satisfaction guarantee - you’ll love our tea or get your money back. We also offer free tea samples in every order shipped. Please browse our site and join us in what we feel is some of the best tea we have ever tasted.
Giving Back to the Community