When the Chinese started drinking tea almost five thousand years ago, they sipped it for its health-giving properties. They found that the brew refreshed them, cured stomach aches, indigestion, depression, skin problems and helped them stay wide awake for hours at a time. Not surprising then that it became the favourite drink in Buddhist monasteries where the monks needed to stay focused but calm through hours of meditation. As the beverage grew in popularity across China’s vast territories, it became an important part of social life with its own etiquette and rituals, ceremonies and tasting competitions. Manufacturing processes were refined and books were written about how to cultivate the plants, pluck the fresh crop, process the leaves, and how to brew and serve the tea. With rapid advances in global shipping and exportation tea soon became China’s major trade.
According to legend, tea is discovered when a Camellia sinensis var. sinensis leaf falls into Emperor Shen Nung’s pot of boiling water. After sipping the infusion and feeling energized the Emperor declares the beverage has medicinal powers.
420-479 Sung Dynasty
Tea is well established as a medicine across China. The camellia leaves are dried and compressed into cakes from which bits are broken off and boiled in water.
557-589 Chin Dynasty
Tea is starting to emerge as a social drink or certainly one that is now being enjoyed for its taste as much as its medicinal purposes
589-620 Sui Dynasty
Tea propagation is now more widespread & organised. Tea bricks emerge as a form of currency. Buddhist monks introduce tea to Japan.
620-907 Tang Dynasty
The poet Lu Yu writes the classic Book of Tea. The custom of donating the very best tea to the Emperor is is started. The raw tea is now steamed and pulverised before being compressed into cakes.
960-1644 Song Dynasty
Tea drinking has now become an established social and spiritual event taking place in designated tea houses or tea rooms. Tea is dried then pulverised into a fine powder and whisked in a bowl with water. Tea ware starts to be developed. This style of preparation was adopted for the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
1368-1644 Ming Dynasty
Black, green and oolong teas are now being manufactured. Round teapots, Yixing clay pottery and blue and white designs are introduced. Tea becomes a major trading commodity. Whole leaves now replace powder and bricks for tea preparation. The beverage is drunk out of individual cups not bowls throughout the day.