History of Chinese Tea Culture (Five Primary Periods)

China is the birthplace of Tea Culture, and Chinese tea has a history of more than 4,700 years since it was first discovered and used by Chinese Emperor Shen Nong in 2737 BC.

According to Chinese historical records, Chinese tea culture began to appear in the Jin Dynasty (AD 266-420). Until today, the development and evolution of Chinese tea culture have experienced five primary periods.

  1. Begin to appear in the Jin Dynasty (AD 266-420).
  2. Form in the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618) and the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).
  3. Rise in the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279).
  4. Develop continually in the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (AD 1636-1912).
  5. Flourish in contemporary China.

Chinese tea culture mainly includes Tea Ceremony (also called Cha Dao), Tea Art and Tea Virtue. Among these three parts, the most important and meaningful part is Tea Ceremony, which is the core of Chinese tea culture. In addition, Tea Ceremony requires Tea Art to reflect and express.

1. Five primary periods Chinese tea culture has experienced

1. Begin to appear in the Jin Dynasty (AD 266-420)

In the Jin Dynasty, with the rise of tea drinking by literati, poetry and songs about tea were gradually coming out. Not only was tea as a general dietary form, but began to integrate into the cultural community.

Afterward, as well with the rise of Buddhism and Taoism, drinking tea was linked with them.

In the Taoist view, drinking tea is a good way to reduce the turbidity of the body and improve the quality of life.

In the Buddhist view, tea is a necessary thing for meditation. Although the complete tea-drinking ceremony and the ideological principle of tea had not yet been formed at this time, the Chinese tea culture had begun to take shape.

2. Form in the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618) and the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907)

In the Sui Dynasty, tea was widely consumed by the general public and generally considered beneficial to the health.

In AD 780, Lu Yu, a famous tea scholar in the Tang Dynasty, respected as the Sage of Tea, composed a monumental book called <The Classic of Tea>, which summarized the art of tea-drinking, integrated the Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism into tea-drinking, and pioneered the spirit of Chinese tea ceremony.

3. Rise in the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279)

In the Song Dynasty, tea industry had developed greatly, which promoted the development of tea culture. Tea etiquette had become a ritual system, and tea-granting had become an important means for the emperor to please ministers and relatives.

As for lower-level society, the tea culture is more active. If some people migrate, the neighbors should offer tea; if you have guests at home, you should serve tea; if someone will marry, he should share and drink a cup of tea with his wife.

4. Develop continually in the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (AD 1636-1912)

At this time, various tea-making techniques had emerged, such as Fixation, Tossing, and Sun Withering, etc. And many literati in the Ming Dynasty created some masterpieces of tea painting.

By the time of the Qing Dynasty, exporting tea has become a formal industry, and countless tea books, tea paintings, and tea poems were created as well.

5. Flourish in contemporary China

  • In 1982, The House of Tea, the first social group, was established with the aim of promoting tea culture in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province.
  • In 1983, The Tea Culture of Lu Yu Research Society was established in Hubei Province.
  • In 1993, The China International Tea Culture Research Association was founded in Huzhou, a city of Zhejiang Province.
  • In 1998, The China International Tea Culture Exchange Museum was built.

Subsequently, many activities and festivities about tea were held all over China, and it is the same as today.

2. Three main parts of Chinese tea culture

1. Tea Ceremony/Cha Dao

Tea Ceremony is the core of Chinese tea culture, and it is a tea-based life etiquette and a lifestyle of self-cultivation.

It is a very useful ritual to promote friendship, learn etiquette, appreciate traditional virtues through making tea, enjoying tea, smelling tea and drinking tea, which can help to cultivate sentiment and remove distracting thoughts.

The Tea Ceremony absorbs the essence of Confucianism and Taoism, providing the esthetic idea of advocating nature, simplicity, and truth. The people who love tea are full of love for nature and have a strong desire to return to nature and get close to nature.

Moreover, under the influence of Taoism, Tea Ceremony pays special attention to health care and advocates mutual communication between people and nature.

In conclusion, the Tea Ceremony is just the spiritual embodiment of tea.

2. Tea Art

Compared with the invisible Tea Ceremony, Tea Art is tangible. Mentioned above, the expression of Tea Ceremony is through making tea, drinking tea, etc. These actions are included in Tea Art.

Strictly speaking, Tea Art includes choosing tea, choosing water, making/brewing tea, tea sets and choosing an appropriate environment for drinking tea.

  1. Choosing tea: to learn tea art, the first step is mastering the classification, the characteristics, the production process of tea, and the knowledge of identification, storage, and selection of tea.
  2. Choosing water: tea must come from the water. The quality, amount, and temperature of the water are very important factors affecting the taste of tea.
  3. Making/Brewing tea: the time and frequency of making tea vary greatly, which is related to the type of tea, the temperature of water and the amount of tea leaves.
  4. Tea sets: the material of the tea sets will affect the taste of tea as well, because different tea sets have different thermal conductivity. Besides, the shape and the appearance of the tea sets are also important to express tea art.
  5. Choosing environment: different environments for making tea will create different themes and effects. The literati pursue quietness and elegance; the nobles pursue luxury and nobility.

In conclusion, Tea Art is a visible form of expression of the Tea Ceremony.

3. Tea Virtue

Tea Virtue refers to the virtue of tea itself. Based on a famous book called <A hundred Couplets of Tea>, Tea Virtue includes eight kinds of virtue:

  1. Health: tea can improve health and prolong life.
  2. Happiness: tea can enhance happiness.
  3. Sweet: tea is like nectar, and makes life sweet.
  4. Fragrant: the fragrance of tea overflows itself.
  5. Peace: tea contains the spirit of harmony.
  6. Tranquil: tea makes mental state tranquil.
  7. Respect: serving tea to your guests means you respect them.
  8. Beauty: tea is a natural beauty, which can offer aesthetic enjoyment.