Tea Culture in the Tang Dynasty

During the Tang dynasty, there were many tea ceremonies recorded in the <<Tea Scripture>>, which was written by the Tang Poet and intellectual Lu Yu. Among them, tea rituals such as Qing Ping tea, the greater Tang Imperial concubine tea, the greater Tang scholar tea, the greater Tang Zen tea, and the greater Tang Folk custom tea stand out prominently.

Tea ceremonies such as the Tang dynasty Emperor – Subject Qing Ping Traditional tea has a very complex preparation procedure, and is divided into many steps: Dish preparation, sampling of tea cakes, roasted tea, ground tea, sieve tea, waiting soup, salt throwing, ladle soup, tea set against the soup, divided tea, tea offerings, the smell of tea, color perception, tea tasting, and offering of thanks. There are sixteen steps to the palace tea ceremony in total.

The formation of the Tang Dynasty tea culture is shaped by economic and cultural factors. The Tang Dynasty put a great deal of energy into its foreign policy and was involved in many foreign affairs. The Tang era also possessed vast territory and it was this political and cultural climate that shaped the contemporary tea culture. The Tea culture was also heavily associated with the development of Buddhism, the imperial examination system, the rise of Poetic art – forms, tea as tribute, and the prohibition of alcohol. The Tang intellectual Lu Yu made the study of tea into an art – form. The book that he wrote, the <<Tea Scripture>>, was an epoch marking milestone, and it does not just describe tea, it also instills into it the essence of the various philosophical schools and the poets emotional dispositions and artistic thoughts, solidifying the theoretical basis of Chinese tea culture.

As a famous Tang tea poem, called <<A spur of the moment poem written to thank Meng Jian Yi sending me tea>> written by the poet Lu Tong goes: “One bowl smoothes the throat, the second one takes away lonliness, the third bowl opens up artistic thought, giving me enough inspiration to write 5,000 essays, and the fourth makes me breaks out in a light sweat, and take away all my worries, and dissipates them through my pores, the fifth bowl makes my body light, and the sixth gives me the powers of enlightenment, the seventh bowl is bad news however, for my lungs already feel flighty. Where art thou, the mountain Peng Lai, The gentleman of Yuchuan wishes to ride these clear winds and return thence.” As one can see from the poem, tea drinking was very highly regarded in the Tang dynasty, with the aforementioned poet implying that seven bowls can make one into a Spirit Immortal.

The Tang dynasty tea were mostly steamed green crumby cake tea, only very little is scattered tea. The tea cakes are made by gathering the fresh leaves of the tea plant, steam until rotten, pound with pestle until mud – like, use utensils to crush into bricks, most of which resemble cakes, and then air dry. When used for eating, one must knock loose the tea bricks, crush it, and then use a screen mesh to screen out the little pellets, and then place them into the tea pot for brewing, instead of steeping with boiling water. In the Tang dynasty, it was considered a very great honor to be treated with tea when staying as a guest, this is because of the tediousness of the preparation, one would expect to wait for quite a while! One also needs to add some table salt when brewing, the purpose of adding the salt is to remove the bubbles in the tea soup and also to remove the water membrane on the surface, giving the tea soup a more lustrous color, although it is unknown how this affects the taste.

The Tang dynasty was really the beginning of the growth of the tea culture in China, as the old saying goes, the tea ceremonies as an art – form caught on in the Tang dynasty, and reached prosperity in the Song dynasty. Or as the Tang poem goes, “Whether they be royalty or government dignitaries, they are all tea drinkers alike, all day and all night, it is a habit most customary.”

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