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|The Song Carry on the Refined Tea Etiquette,
Rituals, and Social Rules of the Tang Era
|The Song Dynasty (960=1279) carried on the refined, elegant rituals of tea drink-
ing begun during the Tang Dynasty (607-918), continuing to enjoy it as a leisure-
ly and social beverage. The complex and formal tea etiquette begun under the
Tang was also carried on, as were new rules of hospitality, preparation, and
serving of tea created as well, which now extended to guests and strangers.
These new rules of hospitality created a link between tea and being courteous
and cordial to all, which still remains part of China's culture today.
|Under the Song Dynasty the emperor now
controlled all aspects of tea cultivation and
production, establishing new systems of
grading leaf tea and determining quality.
Only select members of a chosen class were
allowed to drink certain teas, with the
precious "tribute grade" teas from revered
mountains reserved exclusively for the
Song emperor Huizong selected Ts' An
Hsiang as the first commissioner of tea. As
commissioner of tea it was his duty to per-
sonally supervise the collection and labeling
of all tribute teas in the first weeks of spring.
The next plucking of tender spring flush teas
|were reserved for the upper and elite social classes, while working class was allowed the larger
more course summer plucking for their daily tea.
The Song preferred tea cakes with plum juice added as a sweet-
ener. But as tea drinking continued to evolve, finely powdered
tea began to replace the course leaves used to make tea cakes.
The change to powdered tea brought a new refinement to the
method of preparation, with the powdered tea scrapped directly
from the cake into the bowl and whipped into a delectable green
Song emperor, Huizong ordered the royal pottery works to create new tea drinking cups to
compliment the new ritualized powdered tea preparation. Under emperor Huizong, refined,
elegant, and luxurious porcelains were created with under-glaze decorations, subtle etched
designs, and evocative glazes.
One of the most popular Song porcelains
was Qingbai, which had a bluish-white glaze.
These cups were beautiful on their own, but
also added to the enjoyment of drinking tea,
accentuating the actual liquor.
During this time in tea culture tea
wares began to be viewed as valua-
ble, desirable objects rather than just
functional. For a time emperor
Huizong became partial to a deep
chocolate brown, nearly black, glazed
teacups which were streaked with
fine, thin tan lines, a style known as
"rabbit hair glaze."
The dark, black glaze offset the color of the froth of the whipped tea, making these dark
glazed cups popular in Song tea competitions. The object of these competitions was to
whip up a cup of tea that was the greenest in color and frothiest in style. The dark glaze
accentuated both the color of the tea and the froth, making them most desirable to use.
Another porcelain piece used during the Song era was a
very shallow saucer-like bowl called a zhan that was
barely able to hold much tea, but by that very fact accent-
uated both the color of the froth and tea.
The demand by the emperor for more strong, thin tea-
ware that could endure near boiling liquids was the start
of China's porcelain trade that would, centuries later, influence the ceramics styles,
designs, and manufacturing techniques throughout both Japan and Europe.
It was during the Song Dynasty that China's teahouses be-
came popular, providing regular citizens with a public place in
which to socialize and drink tea rather than secluded at home
with just family and close friends.
A variety of tea and light snacks were available and tea-
houses rapidly became the main outlet to play cards or board
games, socialize, do business, listen to stories, music, or poetry, enjoy other entertain-
ment, or just sit and chat.
Toward the end of their era the Song began to experi-
ment with brewing and drinking tea made with loose
leaves, which they found to be a much easier way to
measure the tea, but the downside was the unpleasant
The Song had no idea that while they concentrated on
perfecting the froth of whipped tea and how best to
improve the flavor and brewing methods of loose tea,
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|outside their walls something other than tea was brewing, and that was trouble...big trouble.
Held back by the harsh, impenetrable lands outside China's borders for centuries, fierce hordes of Mongols were now
preparing to attack and take over the lush, temperate lands of the
The Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) headed up by Kublai Khan would control the Middle Kingdom, essentially eliminating
and destroying the ethereal beauty, etiquette, and stylized rituals of tea and tea drinking for the next 88 years, until
it was taken back by the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Enjoy.