There is something utterly calming and restorative that arises from the simple act of pouring boiled water onto crisp, tight tea leaves. The sound of water plunging to the bottom of a pot.
The slow spread of color as flavor seeps through water. The promise of peace, relief, and calm – if only for a few moments.
It’s any wonder then that tea has infused the very lifeblood of Chinese people. You simply cannot walk down a bustling Beijing thoroughfare or a high street in Shanghai without seeing locals hurrying by, the ubiquitous tea flask with a fresh brew clasped in hand.
Even a western traveler with no knowledge of Chinese tea will know that tea is an integral part of life for Chinese people. No doubt you’ve heard the saying “I wouldn’t do it for all the tea in China”, but never really understood what it meant. So let’s clear that up with a little tea back story in this blog.
Why choose Chinese tea?
The fact is tea is part of the fabric of being Chinese. You’ll discover as much when you explore China on tour. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to make your way around this vast country without some exposure to this elixir of life in which the locals place so much faith.
Like many things in China, the origins of Chinese tea reach back thousands of years and are steeped in popular legend. While there are references to Chinese tea in literature dated at 5,000 years, there is one story that beautifully captures the transformative nature of tea.
It is widely believed Emperor Shen Nung (Shennong) fortuitously happened upon tea when a camellia was blown into his cup of boiled water around 2737BC. He rather fancied the flavor that resulted from this convenient twist of fate and declared the brew to be a winner. Whether there is truth in the legend we’ll never know, however, more serious – and perhaps legitimate references to tea – were found around 1046 BC in Erh Ya, China’s first dictionary.
Consumed originally for its medicinal benefits, over time, Chinese tea – its production, preparation, and consumption – has evolved into a form of art. Incredibly, traditions established thousands of years ago endure today.
The classic art of Chinese tea
It’s said the art of drinking tea was popularized through the work of a (perhaps not so humble) Buddhist priest, Lu Yu. It was Lu who penned The Classic Art of Tea, in which he provided careful notes about exactly how to brew, steep, and serve this most noble of beverages. He claimed that nothing short of water from a slow-moving stream and tea leaves placed delicately in porcelain cups was acceptable. And the ideal spot for savoring the brew? Well, naturally that was sitting under a pavilion looking out over a water lily covered pond with a fair maiden. It seems that despite his poetic tendencies, Lu was a practical man too. He is attributed with tea production techniques that are still used today. Nobody can say he wasn’t committed to his