The Importance of Lineage in Tea Culture

Lineage in all aspects of Chinese culture is extremely important. Whether it is martial arts, music, Qigong or tea, the quality of experience and the results produced depend on passed down knowledge from experienced practitioners to their peers. Like a library or database that is filled with more and more information over the years of its developments, knowledge pertaining to these crafts was only preserved in China from written down records and more importantly through oral transmissions. Oral transmissions were said to be the most important because it was knowledge stored away in the brain that could never be destroyed like books that are burned over the course of history.

For the tea maker in China ranging hundreds and thousands of years back the only way for them to gain access to knowledge was through the direct experience of trial and error or through the teachings of a qualified teacher who instructed orally on all the dos and don’ts of tea making. There was no Internet to reference material or images on Google that could be accessed to share these tips and it was through direct conversation that tips on how to make tea, how to harvest it properly and how to store it properly that tea even came into existence.

There is plenty of information on the Internet these days that reveal many of the methods on how to prepare tea or even harvest it. The Internet has changed the way we come across information forever but we cannot neglect the fact that information shared today largely comes about as a result of passed down information in the oral context from generations spanning over hundreds of years. It is only in recent years that this information has been given an outlet to exist and it is through knowledge holders’ mistakes and experience we get easy access to whatever we want. Oral knowledge transmission was considered scared in China and was only given to those deemed worthy whereas now anyone can access tidbits if they have an Internet connection.

Since the time of the Tang Dynasty tea makers experimented with different soils, nutrients, mountain areas, sunlight exposure, cultivating methods, production assemble and packaging to make tea into what it is today, according to most modern-day lineage assessments. However, many other scholars say the lineage goes back way long to Shennong (divine farmer) who was the first to discover tealeaves can be drunk. Shennong was said to be the first to have discovered many farming techniques for herbs and crops but also on the proper brewing methods for tealeaves. This figure was said to have started sharing tea to China. Regardless of who started or what part of the world it came from this information stemmed into something that was shared with others and later cultivated into an art form that could turn nature into something that could be drunk.

Lineage in tea now holds its benefit primarily in crop cultivation. Every tea farmer has their own secrets and theories regarding how to make better tea and share it with their closest peers. More so, many of these farmers existing today are of elder generations and have still not fully immersed their information to the Internet. One day that may change however due to the rise of younger generations and technology, but just like a company that doesn’t reveal all of its patents or technology secrets to the open the use of oral transmission passed down is most likely going to remain the main competitive edge for companies as well as the leading contributing factor to the development of tea for centuries to come. Reading about information is one thing but having it passed down in context is another.