A Brief History of the Formation of Chinese Tea Culture from an Academic Stance

From a more academic standpoint, broadly speaking the tea culture in China can be divided into two aspects: science and humanities. These refer to the sum of both spiritual and material wealth, which are created by people in process through tea-related historical practice in human society. From a narrow lens, tea culture focuses on humanities, which mainly refers to spiritual and social functions of the tea. Because the natural science of tea has formed an independent system, the tea culture we are discussing currently leans more on humanities.

The formation and development of tea culture 

  1. The enlightenment of tea culture before the three kingdoms’ period

Many books have determined the time when tea was first discovered was around 2737-2697 BC. Its history can be tracked back to the era of the Sovereigns and Five Emperors. In the East Han Dynasty, Hua Tuo’s Classic of food recorded tea discovery in relation to medical value in society. Additionally, in the Western Han Dynasty, people named “Tea Hill” for the place where tea was produced, such as the Tea Hill in Human Province. The book Guangya from Wei during the era of the Three Kingdoms meanwhile contains the earliest records of methods for making teacake and for drinking tea, which stated, “Collect the tea leaves around Jing and Ba areas. The tea cake is done as soon as the leaves are tough and is shaped like a rice cake.”

  1. The seed of the tea culture in Jin Dynasty and Southern and Northern Dynasty

Following with the rise of tea drinking among scholars, writers, and poets, tea-related odes and songs started to appear. Previously tea had grown out as a general form of diet in Chinese culture, and later played a spiritual, social role in Chinese society.

  1. The formation of the tea culture in Tang Dynasty

Lu Yu wrote the Classic of Tea in 780 C.E., which signified the establishment of the Tea Culture in Tang Dynasty. It summarized both the content of nature and humanity in regards to tea. It discussed the art of tea drinking that coalesced Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, which created the pioneer spirit of the Chinese Tea Ceremony. After the Classic of Tea, a lot of tea-related books and poetries such as “Cha Shu”, “Jian Cha Shui Ji”, “Cai Cha Ji”, “Sixteen Tang Pin” and many others sprang into Chinese society. The rise of the tea culture in Tang Dynasty was closely related to development of Zen as well. Because tea is good for refreshing people’s thoughts and quenching people’s thirst, temples advocated drinking tea, planting tea trees around the monastery, setting up tea ceremonies, placing tea chambers, electing the tea head for serving for Buddha and clients, as well as arranging tea activities. In the Tang Dynasty, tea ceremony in China was commonly divided for the court, temples, and scholars.

  1. The flourish of tea culture in Song dynasty

The tea industry had made a great progress since Song Dynasty as well as promoted the development of tea culture. Professional teahouse clubs started to come up among scholars. There were “Tang Club” establishments by officials, “Thousands People Club” for Buddhists, etc. Moreover, Zhao Kuangyin, the Emperor Taizu of Song Dynasty, was addicted to tea. He established a bureau for tea-related activities in court and graded tea into different levels for the court, making tea ceremony an evident ritual. Giving tea as a reward to ministers, secretaries, noble kinships, and foreign ambassadors also became an important strategy for emperors to build rapport and win their hearts over. As for the lower social class, tea culture was even more lively and vivacious. Neighbors would provide “Xian Cha” for people who were moving; hosts would provide “Yuanbao Cha” for honored guests. People drank “Xia Cha” for engagement; drank “Ding Cha” for marriage; drank “He Cha” for consummation. Accompanied with the Dou Cha tradition, a series of changes in picking, producing, cooking, and watering tea were common.

  1. The popularization of tea culture in the Ming and Qing Dynasty

During this period of time, various types of tea such as steamed, fried, and roasted tea had appeared. The way of tea drinking had been changed into the “pinch-soak” way. Many scholars in Ming Dynasty left their masterpieces about tea, such as Tang Yin’s “Tea Cooking Scroll”, “Tea Tasting Picture”; Wen Zhengming’s “Tea meeting at Hui Mountain”, “Lu Yu’s tea cooking picture”, “Tea Tasting Picture”, etc. From the type of tea, the technique for making tea to the fashion, texture, and pattern of tea sets, all differed in thousands of ways. Until Qing Dynasty, tea export had been a formal industry including countless tea books, tea sets, and tea poems.

  1. The development of modern tea culture

After the establishment of People’s Republic of China in the year 1949, the annual output of tea had numerously increased from 7500 tons to more than 600,000 tons till the year of 1998. The significant increase in material wealth laid a solid foundation for the development of tea culture in China. In 1982, the first non-profit social club called “Teaer’s House” was established in Hangzhou for the purpose of advocating traditional tea culture. In 1983, “Lu Yu Tea Culture Research Association” was founded in Hubei Province. In 1990, “Chinese Tea Fellowship Association” was founded in Beijing. In 1993, “China International Tea Culture Research Association” was established in Hu Zhou. In 1991, the China Tea Museum was officially opened in Hangzhou West Lake. In 1998, “China International Peace Tea Culture Exchange Pavilion” was built. With the rise of the tea culture, the number of tea houses has been increasing in various places. The International Tea Culture Seminar has come to its fifth session, which has attracted Japan, Korea, the United States, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong, Taiwan to participate. Cities and provinces where tea is mainly produced host the Tea Festival on after another, such as the Rock Tea Festival in Wuyi, Fujian Province, the Pu’er Tea Festival in Yunnan Province, and many other tea festivals in Xinchang, Taishun in Zhejiang Province, Yingshan in Hubei Province, Xinyang in Henan Province. They all regard tea as a carrier so as to comprehensively promote economic and trade development in China.