|The Tang Dynasty Brings a New
Sophistication to Tea Drinking in China
|While the Han (206BC-220AD) and Qin Dynasties (224-589AD) worked to build a
unified country with one central government, the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD)
ushered in an era of refinement and sophistication to tea and tea drinking in
China. The emphasis was on art, culture, and surrounding oneself with the fin-
est, most luxurious furnishings, textiles, and decor.
|Tea drinking was now for pleasure and relaxation,
and it was the Tang who first introduced tea as a
pleasurable beverage drunk during formal tea
A strict code of tea etiquette was designed and to
ensure that rare, expensive teas were properly pre
pared a new professional class was created called
a Tea Master. The Tea Master's job was to execute
the preparation and serving of tea with style and
proper social etiquette. The emperor, government
officials, and high social-ranking citizens employed
a Tea Master.
Tea was no longer
thought of as a crude
and bitter brew, but as
|a healthy drink, viewed in a more spiritual realm, believed to be the
"elixir of immortality." This transcendental view of tea was furthered
by a scholar, recluse, and member of the literati named Lu Yu, often
referred to as "China's Father of Tea."
Lu Yu was China's first real tea specialist and
he's known today as the "patron saint of
tea." During the 8th century AD, Lu Yu wrote
Cha Chang (Classic of Tea), codifying the rit-
uals he thought of as necessary for properly
preparing a pot of tea.
Lu Yu learned how to correctly brew tea from
his adopted father, a Buddhist monk, working
for 20 years to produce the book that became
essential reading for all tea farmers, tea mer-
chants, and Chinese tea consumers, and is
still highly regarded today.
In Cha Chang (Classic of Tea) Lu Yu described
the tea plant, cultivation, and the way differ-
ent teas are manufactured. He taught readers what sort of water to use, about the health
benefits, as well as explaining the culture and rituals of tea drinking. He brought together both
the practical and philosophical beliefs learned during his lifetime,
bringing both Confucian and Daoist principals into practice in Cha
It was under Lu Yu's guidance that the very first tea utensils were
designed to be used exclusively for preparing, serving, and drinking
As the methods and rituals of tea drinking became more sophisticat-
ed, so too did the tea tools used to prepare and drink it. A varied
selection of ceramic tea bowls, teacups, teapots, and ewers for
water were created.
Not only did Lu Yu teach tea drinkers to appreciate tea, but also the
materials used to make the tea bowls, favoring white Hsing Chou
ware and greenish colored Yueh ware.
Under the Tang Dynasty a vast government-controlled network of
tea gardens was established in western and southern China. Both
the western border populations of Tibetans and the northern border
populations of Mongols and Tartans sought tea as an important
addition to their meager diets. The Tang government devised a
barter system, trading their tea for horses with the border popula-
In 641AD the Tibetans first learned about tea, when Tang Princess
Wen Cheng married Tibetan King Songtsan Gambo, bringing tea
from her home in Sichuan Province with her to Tibet. The barter and trading system established
between the Tibetans and Tang Court lasted well into the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).
The Tibetans traded strong and healthy horses to the Tang who need-
ed them for their warriors, while the Tibetans found tea a necessity to
fortify their non- vegetable diets.
Horse-caravan routes were established to further trading with groups
far from China. These round-trip routes were long, hard journeys, often
across treacherous terrain, along with harsh weather at times.
The first of the routes created is known as the "Tea Horse Route,"
stretching from Sichuan to Yunnan province, to Tibet, and over the
rough and rugged Himalayas.
Later other tea trading routes were created running from western
China, with southern routes to Tibet and a western route running from
Sichuan province, going across central Asia to Mongolia and Siberia.
Compressed bricks of dark, course, low-quality "border tea" was designed for trading. These
tea bricks were made from tea twigs and leftover bits of tea from producing the Tang's fine
quality tea cakes. These crude "border tea" cakes were devised to avoid spoilage and send as
much tea as possible to Tibet on each trip.
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| It was around this same period of time that tea was being introduced to Japan via
visits to Chinese Buddhist monks, from Zen priests. The priest Saicho would return to
Japan in 815 after living in China for many years and prepare and serve boiled tea
cake to Emperor Saga, afterwards planting the tea seeds in the temple gardens. But
it would be several centuries before tea and tea drinking would take hold in Japan and
become popular. (Visit Japan's early tea history page for more on tea and tea drinking
During the coming Song Dynasty (960-1279) tea would continue to be a formal and refined activity, but the rules of
tea drinking established during the Tang Dynasty would become even more complex and formal. Enjoy.