Tea maintains a position of prestige in Chinese history and culture unlike any other culinary tradition. From its origins almost five thousand years ago, when a simple tea leaf fell into a boiling pot of water of Shen Nong, one of China’s most important culture bearers, the teacher of agriculture and medicine, to its historical development, tea has steeped itself into the very fabric of Chinese life.
Tea’s significance can be seen in all aspects of Chinese culture; it is the first thing we serve to guests, an offering to elders, ancestors, and gods, and a part of meals, meetings, and meditation. During the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) China experienced a time of great prosperity, both economically and culturally, providing tea culture the perfect atmosphere for growth and development. The first book on tea culture was written during the 8th century by the tea sage Lu Yu, followed by other scholarly treatise in each subsequent dynasty on water, tea ware, and all other aspects of tea.
As tea continued its development in Chinese culture it began to take on many forms. In the countryside tea competitions became commonplace amongst farmers and merchants while in the cities the teahouse became the cultural center of the community, a refuge where scholars met to share poetry and paintings, a setting for merchants to discuss business, and a place for the common person to rest and relax. Even within the intimate confines of a temple, tea went beyond a simple brewed cup. It merged with philosophy, fused with meditation, and brought about deep contemplation. The development of a tea ceremony brought about an amalgamation of philosophies, techniques, and personal expression, resulting in the simplest to most complex forms of enjoying tea. To further enhance the art of brewing tea, various tea ware was created during each dynasty, each piece with a specific purpose. Porcelain teapots, teacups, gaiwans, and other pieces emerged from the kilns of Jindezhen while demand increased for the clay teapots from Yixing. Over time, tea became not just a simple beverage but also an integral part of Chinese culture.