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What is the Chinese legend about the origin of tea?

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Yan Emperor Shen Nong era (4094 B.C. ~ 3574 B.C.)

Who was Shen Nong? Shen Nong is one of the ancient Chinese Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors’ Yan Emperor and he discovered the tea. Tea plays a vital role in Chinese life since ancient times. Tea has existed in China more than 5000 years.

Yan Emperor Shen Nong
Yan Emperor Shen Nong

According to the Qing Dynasty thirty-four years of Qianlong (1769) March Wenyuange photocopy of "Siku Quanshu · Gezhi Jingyuan" Volume 021 recorded, "Shen Nong tasted hundreds of herbs, encounter 70 kinds of poisonous every day, and tea is the detoxification for him".

Siku Quanshu Ge Zhi Jing Yuan
Siku Quanshu • Ge Zhi Jing Yuan

According to ancient legend, the Yan Emperor Shen Nong often went to the mountains to collect herbs to help people heal. One day, Shen Nong tasted a poisonous grass when picking medicinal herbs. Suddenly he felt dizzy with a dry tongue. He quickly found a big tree and sat down to rest. At this moment, a gust of wind blew, a few leaves with delicate fragrant fall from the trees, then Shen Nong picked a few leaves on the mouth to chew, unexpectedly, a fragrance arises spontaneously and produces saliva, it elevated his spirits, the discomfort was swept away. Shen Nong felt so strange, so he picked up a few leaves and looked closely. He found that the leaves, veins, and margins of the leaves were different with the common trees. Shen Nong collected some of the leaves and studied it carefully, and later it was called "tea".

Shennong Tasted Hundreds of Grasses
Shennong Tasted Hundreds of Grasses

There was a record dating back to Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC) about the usage of tea in a Chinese dictionary- Erya (oldest surviving Chinese dictionary). Tea was used to as a medicine to make people stay awake at the beginning, it was still used as a medicine functional plant in Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.).

Erya
Erya


 

Sui Dynasty (581 - 618) and Tang Dynasty (618-907)
Tea evolved from a medicinal plant to the beverage in Sui and Tang Dynasties. To drink tea spread into more people’s lives in Sui Dynasty.

Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) was a peak time for tea development. Tea became a wider drinking beverage in people’s daily life. A lot of tea trees were extensively planted and the tea culture developed fast.

Tang Dynasty tea ceremony
Tang Dynasty tea ceremony

Speaking of tea, we have to mention one person, Lu Yu. Who was Lu Yu? Lu Yu (733–804) born in Tang Dynasty, was known as Tea Saint, he wrote the first definitive work on cultivating, making and drinking tea - Cha Jing (also The Classic of Tea).

Lu Yu
Lu Yu

Tea has become an indispensable drink in people's lives during the Tang Dynasty. Chang Jing also recorded the history of tea before Tang Dynasty and described the types of tea.

Cha Jing
Cha Jing

Brick tea was the main style of the tea in Tang Dynasty. Tea leaves were made into cake forms. In order to make the hot drink, brick tea was put into the boiling water in kettles to cook for some time.

Tang Dynasty Silver Tea Set
Tang Dynasty Silver Tea Set

 

Song Dynasty (960 - 1279)
Song Dynasty (690-1279 A.D.) is another important period for the development of tea. More tea species appeared in Song Dynasty. 
Song Dynasty Tea Ceremony
Song Dynasty Tea Ceremony

The requirement of tea was stricter and stricter at the time. Tea connoisseurs even held competitions to judge the quality of tea including the tea leaves, water, and the mixture. Books, poems, and paintings about tea were popular in the whole country which promoted the tea trade between Central Plains (the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River) and the outside of the great wall.

Song Dynasty Tea Contests

Song Dynasty Tea Contests

The number of social tea houses increased rapidly in Song Dynasty. Tea culture was formed day by day. Tea became people’s essential drink in the daily life. People still made the tea leaves into the brick tea. Japan Kamakura period of Linji School study monk Nampo Shao Ming in the Song Dynasty came to China, he brought back the Jingshan Tea Feast to Japan, it became the origin of the Japanese tea ceremony.

Song Dynasty Jingshan Tea Feast
Song Dynasty Jingshan Tea Feast

 

Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644—1912)

In the Ming and Qing Dynasties, tea had reached to the folk life and be widely loved by all levels of people. And the government allowed people plant tea trees freely. There were more categories of tea including green tea, flower tea, oolong tea and black tea in Ming and Qing Dynasties. The different production processes of tea had been improved and it also influenced the drinking styles of tea.

Qing Dynasty, Cooking tea and wash inkstone Figure, author Qian Huian
Qing Dynasty, Cooking tea and wash inkstone Figure, author Qian Huian

People also paid attention to the exquisite teapots. Yi Xing Teapots were the most popular teapots during this period which had formed a new art of the teapots. Tea houses were located everywhere in the street, the number of the tea works including books, poets, painting of tea was the biggest in all the dynasties.

Ming Dynasty, Zhao Liang Yi Xing Teapot, author Donghan
Ming Dynasty, Zhao Liang Yi Xing Teapot, author Donghan

 

Present

Tea has become one of the Chinese specific drinks in the world. A large number of teas are exported to the foreign countries. Tea shops and Tea houses in the street are easily found in China. Chinese tea culture and arts attracts a lot of people. It is irreplaceable in Chinese life.

Happy Family Tea Time
Happy Family Tea Time

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