Tea Culture in the Ming Dynasty

The Ming emperor Zhu Yuan Zhang was more or less a practical man, this mindset extended from his ruling style to his bureaucracy to his military, and even to his attitude towards tea. He rose from the peasantry, so it was natural sense that he would want to relieve the burden of the common man, and do away with all the elaborate rituals that so marked tea drinking in past dynasties. As a result of his policies, tributaries offered loose tea instead of teacakes, and there was also simplification of the tea manufacturing process during and after his reign.

The first Ming emperor’s 17th son, Zhu Quan, wrote a book about tea, it is called <<Tea Spectrum>>, it is a work of systematic appraisal of tea quality, tea equipment, drinking methods, and other aspects of tea activities. In it, the emperor outlined clear and concise requirements for brewing and drinking tea, including emphasis on “natural original nature”, “real taste”, and was against extravagance and excess in tea equipment, paving the way for the simplified way of tea drinking found in China today.

As improvements to the tea manufacturing technologies were discovered in the Ming dynasty, tea areas gradually produced more famous teas, there were scant few famous loose teas recorded in the Song dynasty, but at the time of the Ming dynasty, the number of famous teas recorded in the book <<Matters of the Purple Bead>> alone numbered several hundred, and they were all loose teas.

The forms of tea that existed multiplied during the Ming dynasty. The varieties of black tea, green tea, red tea, and flower tea all appeared during that period and began to expand, and China saw green tea or oolong tea production sprouting from Fujian province during the Ming – Qing period. Red tea first appeared as a part of a book written by the Early Ming author Liu Ji, called <<Multiple Talents and Trivial things>>. On the other hand, the various tea areas also produced Gong – fu small variety tea, purple hair, white hair, Zhang Sprout tea, Select sprout tea, faint scent, orchid scent tea, etc, it greatly increased tea type variety, and facilitated the development of the tea industry.

In the Ming dynasty, tea was brewed by placing the tealeaves into the teacup and or teakettle, and then drawn with boiling water, as a very simple and direct method.

There were various artistic pursuits related to tea in the Ming dynasty as engaged in by the Intelligentsia, and there were in fact requirements / preferences placed on the environment and the people which participated in the tea ceremony. As the saying goes, “when one person drinks, there is spirit, when two people drink, there is entertainment, three, taste, if one has seven or eight people, then it is like a stand at a restaurant.” As far as the environment goes, as a rule, the Ming dynasty intellectuals usually preferred quiet forests, vast farm fields, places alongside streams, fountains, and in the company of birds, cool breezes, green pines and ocean tides.

It seems that the Ming dynasty elite were big believers in simplicity, and naturalness, they did not believe so much in the trappings of pomp and circumstance. In other words, there is power in simplicity, and purity in naturalness, and this philosophy is mirrored in their tea culture.