|Song's Social Tea Drinking Customs Abruptly
End Under Rule of Kublai Khan's Yuan Era
|The Song (960-1279) had no idea their era was about to come to an abrupt and
hostile end as fierce Mongol hordes under the leadership of Kublai Khan swept
over the lush and temperate lands of China. For the next 88 years Kublai Khan's
Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) would rule.
|China's evolving tea culture, with
their formalized tea ceremonies
and rules of tea etiquette was brought to a quick
and sudden ending. Under the Yuan, tea drinking
was now reduced to a functional act, with the
Mongol rulers demanding the strong, dark brick tea
mixed with fermented mare's milk, they were
accustomed to. They tolerated the Song's newly
discovered loose leaf tea, but disliked the frothy
The Yuan Mongols were
intrigued by the idea of
leaf tea, though, and
soon developed a new
technique for drying and
roasting fresh tea leaves,
called chaoqing. The pro-
|cess of chaoqing resulted in leaves that were less burned or parched, and came closer to the
techniques that would eventually be used to produce green teas. However, tea leaf manufac-
ture wouldn't progress beyond this point until 275 years later, under the
Ming dynasty (1368-1644).
Unfortunately the Mongols came to rule at the pinnacle of China's evolv-
ing tea culture. If allowed to progress their tea customs at the time
would have likely evolved into a more formal, stylized tea ceremony. But
instead it was the Japanese, who had moved beyond the adoration and
imitation of all things Chinese, that would establish Chanoyu, a formal
tea ceremony based on their own aesthetics.
In 1368 a young rebel leader named Zhu Yuanzhang, who had voiced
opposition to the Mongol rule, became the first Ming emperor. He
adopted the name Hongwu, which meant "Vast Military Power," and renewed China's former
imperial tea customs and traditions including the elaborate stylized Han tea customs from the
During his reign Hongwu established and
codified many topics and policies in regard
to tea cultivation and production, as well as
storage, grading, and transportation, build-
ing the early framework of China's future
tea industry that is still in use today.
It was during the Ming dynasty that the se-
cret to oxidation (the process used to turn
fresh green tea leaf to black tea) was un-
covered. Even though the Chinese preferr-
ed green tea, believing black tea to be more
fit for barbarian foreigners, they recognized
the importance the process of oxidation had
in preserving tea to last longer and travel
better over long distances of land and water.
In the past course, low quality bricks of green tea, called "border
tea," were produced for trading purposes, made up of mainly
twigs and bits of leftover tea from the manufacture of the Tang's
fine, high quality tea cakes. These crude tea bricks often broke
down from exposure to extreme heat or freezing temperatures,
and often developed mold when exposed to rain or the damp
environment aboard ships. But the new, oxidized black tea bricks
could be exported to the border regions of Tibet and Mongolia
and arrive in good condition.
Under the Ming the tradition of commissioning fine tableware began once again, as well as the
production of the first porcelain teapots. Because tea was still expensive these early teapots
were intentionally made small, allowing for tea leaves to be re-infused several times by just
adding more hot water. Among these early Ming teapots, small zisha teapots appeared and
quicly became favorites of the tea literati.
The Tang dynasty (618-907AD) was the first to experiment with add-
ing plum juice, fruits, and spices to tea for added sweetness and
aroma, but it was the Song who began creating flavor scented teas
such as jasmine, rose, and osmanthus. This was considered to be
the Song's most important contribution to China's tea culture, even
more so than their move from caked tea to powdered tea.
It was the Ming dynasty, however, that picked up where the Song ended. The Ming had a love
of aromatic flowers and rich perfumed fragrances that eventually led to them perfecting the
art of scenting tea with fresh flowers and petals. Today China alone is credited with the
development of delicately flavored, aromatic scented teas.
As the Ming proudly celebrated their many accomplishments,
though, a dark cloud of change was once again brewing. The
death of the last Ming emperor again brought tribal banners
flying over the Celestial Empire as this time Manchu tribesman
took over, and announced the beginning of the Qing dynasty
(1644-1911), also known as the Manchu dynasty.
Important changes were about to mark the Qing era, as the Manchu rulers ushered in the begin-
ning of trade with Europe, turning China into one of the most important trading destinations in
the world. Enjoy.
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