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. Beginning to appear in the Jin Dynasty (AD 266-420).
  2. Forming in the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618) and Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).
  3. Rising in the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279).
  4. Developing continually in the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (AD 1636-1912).
  5. Flourishing 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. The five primary periods Chinese tea culture has experienced

1. Beginning 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 religious 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. Forming in the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618) and Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907)

In the Sui Dynasty, tea was widely consumed by the general public, and tea was generally considered to be beneficial to 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. Rising 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 attract ministers and relatives.

As for lower-level society, the tea culture is more lively. 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. Developing 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. Many literati in Ming Dynasty created some masterpiece of painting of tea.

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

5. Flourishing in contemporary China

  • In 1982, the first social group, The House of Tea, 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 of tea were held all over China, and it is the same as today.

2. The three main parts of Chinese tea culture

1. Tea Ceremony/Cha Dao

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

It is a very useful ritual of harmony to promote friendship, learn etiquette, appreciate traditional virtues through making tea, enjoying tea, smelling tea and drinking tea, helping 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 making and 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 can affect the taste of tea as well, because different tea sets have different thermal conductivity. Besides, the appearance of the tea sets is 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 heart tranquil.
  7. Respect: Serving tea to your guests means you respect them.
  8. Beauty: Tea is a natural beauty, which can give aesthetic enjoyment.