Sep 29, 2013

Evolution of Tea Drinking (I)

This is an excerpt from the book Chinese Teas, which was previously introduced in this blog.   


Chinese Teas, by Wan Xiaochun, Gong Shuying, Gong Zhengli et al. 
China Forestry Publishing House, Beijing. 

Translated by Miles Liu, Gingko Seto

Photos courtesy of China Forestry Publishing House. 

Evolution of Tea Drinking

I.  Tea Boiling Practices 

Tea Boiling practices as a brewing style date back to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220
A.D.) in China and have lasted to the present. Throughout the Han Dynasty, Three Kingdoms
Period, and the Six Dynasties (265 - 589 A.D.), boiling tea enjoyed an unprecedented popularity.
It is still a preferred brew in isolated regions of China (*).

i.  The Origin of Tea Boiling 

Tea drinking began with tea as food and remedy. Thus, boiling tea as a beverage rooted
in cooking tea as food and medicine. As food, freshor dried tea leaves were brewed in boiling
water to make soup, usually concocted with salt. For medical use, tea leaves—fresh or dried—
were boiled with ginger, cinnamon, pepper, dried tangerine peel, mint and/or other herbal
condiments to make herb syrup. The earliest writtenrecord of tea drinking, excavated in
southwestern China (today’s Sichuan Province), goesback as far as to the beginning of the first
century around the end of the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C – 24 A.D.). 

ii.  Features of Tea Boiling Technique 

(1)  Tea Leaves to Use
This brewing technique would use any type of tea leaves, fresh and processed. But
compressed tea needs to be broken into small pieces and ground into powder before brewed in
boiling water. 

(2)  Tea Boiling Utensils
Tea Boiling utensils and cook wares tended to be interchangeable before the Tang
Dynasty (618 – 907), since no specialized pots or kettles were designated to the preparation of
tea. Mixed kitchen wares used for boiling tea included boilingpot, cauldron, tripod-cauldron, bowl, and gourd scooper. Specialized tea utensils began to emerge during the Tang Dynasty. 

Among the most popular for Tea Boiling practices were narrow-opening cauldron, large-opening
water pot, flat-bottom boiler, kettle, brazier, teapot, ceramic jar, bowl, flat bowl, gourd scooper,
wooden ladle, etc.

(3)  Preparing and Drinking 

The Tea Boiling technique is not rigid or restrictive in its execution. Tea leaves can be
put in before or after water in the pot. The water can be cold or hot when put in a pot, but must
be brought to full boil. The water can be boiled once or for a long time. The boiled tea can be
mixed with salt, ginger, pepper, cinnamon, and/or butter curd, depending on the drinker’s taste.
Consuming the boiled tea plain, without any condiment, can be just as enjoyable. However, this
drinking style is known for adding various condiments to the boiled tea. 

iii.  Evolution of Tea Boiling Practices 

Tea boiling and drinking were rather simple before the mid-Tang Dynasty. Tea was
boiled and brewed in soup or made into tea porridgemixed with cereals. Boiling fresh tea leaves
was out of fashion from the mid-Tang onward thanks to the development and improvement of
tea processing techniques. While the Tea Boiling practices were wide-spread before the Tang
Dynasty, they remained popular mainly in some ethnic regions after the Tang Dynasty and were seen elsewhere in China only occasionally. Today, compressed tea such as “tea cakes” and “tea
bricks” continue their popularity among Tibetans, Mongolians, Uyghur people, and other ethnic
groups in China. It is their continued practice of this tea drinking style that keeps the Tang
Dynasty’s Tea Boiling tradition alive and well. 

Tea utensils used in ancient China:

Picture on the left: Turtle-shaped silver tea box (front), silver tea-crushing roller and silver tea bowl (back).

Picture in the middle: Silver tea chopsticks used in imperial palaces (front) and silver sieve box (back).

Picture on the right: Gold-plated silver tea cage


Some more blabbing from this blogger... 
One of the take home messages from this piece, I think, is that if you use milk for your tea, don't feel bad about it or let others make you feel bad about it (one of those days you would hear that sort of talk about tea and milk, you know...). It's one of the most traditional ways of tea drinking ;-)