A Brief History of Chinese Tea Drinking Customs

Tea culture, drinking practices, tea utensils, and teas have all undergone changes over a long period of time, making it important to consider the historical context of The Ancient Art of Tea. Although the teas, utensils, and brewing methods differed between the Tang, Song, Ming, and Qing dynasties, some elements remained similar.

During the Tang Dynasty, coarse brick tea was popular, which was made by steaming green bricks with a rice paste binding agent. The bricks were pounded into chunks, roasted over low fire, milled into a fine powder, and added to boiling water with salt.

In the Song Dynasty, people had higher requirements for their tea and preferred pure tea without additives. Steamed green bricks were still used, but the water was boiled in a spouted ceramic bottle, and the fine bricks were pounded and milled to a fine powder. Powdered tea was placed in a preheated bowl and alternately poured with water from the bottle while beating the tea with a tea whisk or spoon, producing a white froth on top of the green powdered tea.

By the Ming Dynasty, powdered green tea was no longer used, and direct steeping of whole green tea leaves in hot water became the norm. This led to the development of gaiwans and teapots made of porcelain and zisha clay as steeping vessels.

In the Qing Dynasty, gongfu tea, where small teapots and tea cups were used to steep fine tea, became popular in southern Fujian and northern Guangdong provinces. This new tea type led to the development of wulong or oolong tea in northern Fujian.

Many classical tea texts follow the same format as Lu Yu’s Classic of Tea. By bringing together information from a variety of ancient tea texts, The Ancient Art of Tea offers a broader perspective and deeper insight into topics such as water for tea, heating the fire, boiling the water, and the philosophical taste of tea. Through this, readers can gain an understanding of the skill the ancients possessed in brewing tea and learn techniques or knowledge useful in preparing and appreciating tea.

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