Why Wuyi Tea Represents Climax in the Tea History

Wuyi tea is not a specific tea tree species, or a specific tea product. Rather, it is a group, a collectivity of the tea-producing industry in the North Fujian area. This collectivity is so preeminent in the tea history of China and even in the whole world that it props up the height of Chinese tea industry. On this point, the tea culture scholars have been overly cautious about the word choices in the past years.


There are a few examples to support this point. As is recorded in All about Tea by William H. Ukers, the earliest tea that appeared on the European market was Wuyi tea. The tea that was poured into the sea in the Boston Tea Party incident was also Wuyi tea. The earliest chemical that was detected in tea was named “Wuyi acid”. The tea tree seeds and blending tea of India originated from Wuyi tea. Wuyi tea was once eulogized by both Chinese and foreign literati… These examples symbolize the peak of Wuyi tea and the huge contributions that it has done to the tea history of both China and the whole world. Of course, Wuyi tea does not stagnate or decline when it reached the peak. In contrary, it stands on the peak and continues to reach new heights. I personally believe that the word “peak” is the most suitable word to describe Wuyi tea. Some people may say that there are also some setbacks in the history of Wuyi tea, such as the time when ball tea was changed to loose tea in the early Ming dynasty, and the chaotic society in the late Qing dynasty and early Republic of China, during which time Wuyi tea industry experienced great downturns. This is true. However, just as the crest and valley of a wave line, the downturns of Wuyi tea is actually helping it gather more strength to reach a new peak. In this way, the developing Wuyi tea becomes an important habitant and support of the tea culture of China and the whole world, compared to lots of historically famous tea that completely changed or even disappeared as time went by.


Fujian has the best tea in the world.

Let us go back to thousands of years ago. In the Northern Song dynasty, as the climate was getting colder and colder, the tea that was planted in the Tai Lake area could not sprout before Qingming. In order to meet the demands of the royal family, the plantations of tribute tea was moved towards north until it was finally settle in Jianan. Ever since then, the Beiyuan Tribute Tea Plantation started its glorious journey in the history of Chinese tea from the year 933 AD. After four dynasties, which last for a total of 458 years, this plantation finally became a cultural miracle and became the birthplace of the highest quality of the Chinese ball tea craftwork.


“The Dragon and Phoenix Ball Tea is famous all over the world for its carefully selected raw material, delicate craftwork, highest quality and the marvelous boiling methods.” It is so rare and precious that even Wang Anshi, the Chinese premier minister of that time, also saw it as the treasure that came from heaven, which could make the drinkers felt like flying in the sky. The low-ranking officials who were not eligible to drink the Dragon and Phoenix Ball tea could only imagine its wonderful taste from its beautiful nicknames, such as dragon in the fly and snow dragon. Also, during that time, the Chinese tribute tea industry began its process of specialization and institutionalization. Till the period of Emperor Huizong of Song dynasty, the tea drinking culture become very subtle and delicate, just as the traditional Chinese meticulous drawings of that time.


Despite the Beiyuan tribute tea, the tea art and tea culture also reached a new peak during that historical period. More than 20 books specifically on tea art were published during that time, such as The Record of Tea by Cai Xiang, Report on Tasting of East Brook Tea by Song Zian, Bei Yuan Bie Lu by Zhao Ruli, Treatise on Tea by Emperor Song Huizong, Essential Record of Tea Tasting by Huang Ru, and Record of Xuan He Era Tribute Tea in The North Farm by Xiong Fan. Although the themes of these books were mostly regional, this kind of culture landscape was never seen before, and never will again in the Chinese tea literature history. These books mostly focus on the beautiful colors of tea, the delicacy of tea ware, and the quality of Fujian tea. Even until today the new literature on tea art has to refer to them. More importantly, during this historical period of time, the Chinese tea culture was fully integrated with poetry and Zen Buddhism, so the Chinese traditional poetry experienced a fruitful boom. Interesting, detached, clear, free and elegant, these poems were quietly infiltrated by the tea leaves, tea drinkers, tea characters, tea anecdotes, tea morality and tea art, and make all these things into fine poetry. Tea art lasts as long as the Confucianism. The numbers of poems in Song dynasty is unprecedented in history. Wuyi tea Poems is the highlight among all those poems. Almost all of the famous poets in Song dynasty, from the royal family to the literati class, such as Lin Fu, Yang Yi, Fang Zhongyan, Yan Shu, Mei Yaochen, Ouyang Xiu, Zeng Gong, Su Song, Wang Anshi, Su Dongpo brothers, Huang Tingjian, Qin Guan, Li Qingzhao, Lu You, Zhou Bida, Yang Wanli, Zhuxi, Yelv Chucai and Sadula. Even in the early Ming dynasty when ball tea was abandoned and loose tea began to rule the market, the later generations were still pondering the taste of Dragon and Phoenix ball tea. The literati class of all ages invariably uses the most beautiful words to eulogize Wuyi tea. The literati is the discoverer of the beauty of tea, and they are also the establisher of the standards to evaluate the beauty of tea. It is the literati that pushed Wuyi tea from a drink to the public appreciation, from tools to thoughts, showing the charm of tea culture. Tea, mountains, and the literati are integrated, and have shined for thousands of years.


Wuyi tea belongs to the whole world.


There are six major types of tea in China, and Wuyi tea embraces three of them. They are the oolong tea, black tea and white tea. These three types tea can be seen as the peak of the renovations of Wuyi tea industry. Until now, the North Fujian area is still an important producing area for some special and precious Chinese tea. However, the innovative value and the influence that it has on the later generations are not fully evaluated by the tea industry. I believe that first of all, Wuyi tea enriches the tea varieties of Chinese tea, improves tea qualities, changes its consumption patterns, and greatly influences the export and international trade. For example, people in Qing dynasty used the oolong tea and black tea to make Kongfu tea. Also, in two and a half century, the majority of the Chinese export goods were Wuyi tea, making tremendous economic value. Nowardays, Wuyi tea still plays an important role in tea export. Secondly, the tea varieties and craft work of Wuyi tea has generated widely-spread market value profound cultural influence in all ages and all over the world. Other varieties of oolong tea, such as the Guangdong oolong, Minnan oolong, Taiwan oolong were all derived from the Wuyi oolong tea, and continue to spread to other provinces, which forced the creation and popularity of Kongfu tea. Based on the Lapsang Souchong balck tea that originated in the Wuyi area, more than then different varieties of back tea were developed, such as the Wuyi Kongfu black tea, broken black tea, Keemun black tea, Yunnan black tea, and Jiu Qu Hong Mei. The most popular black tea, Jin Jun Mei,

is also developed from the Lapsang Souchong black tea. Lapsang Souchong black tea helps to innovate new tea varieties and aroused a “black tea fever”. It fills the void of high-ranking black tea in China, and help the Chinese black tea to revive. Thirdly, Wuyi tea is an important media for international cultural communication. The Chinese government is now preparing to help the land route (created by Fujian merchants) and water route (created by the Shanxi merchants) of tea transportation to apply for World Cultural Heritage. The adventurous sprit of Fujian merchants and Shanxi merchants finally become an important character of Chinese business culture.


After Wuyi tea came onto the European market, although it was not very accepted by the Europeans at first, it then became a popular life style once it was integrated with British scientific fashion, the afternoon tea. A folk song said, “when the clock truck four, everything in the world stops for tea”. Nowadays, the afternoon tea has become the most typical symbol of the British culture. Wuyi tea was also integrated with the British art fields of painting, sculpture, music, dance, and drama. The politicians and literati were so mad about tea that they left us with many beautiful poems and verses. This corresponds with the Chinese literati class.


Wuyi tea also shed light onto the Japanese tea ceremony after it was spread to Japan. Travelling through the vast desert, Wuyi tea arrived at Russia. Makovsky exclaimed with delight “ every easterner is delighted because the camels brought them with Wuyi tea”. The ancestor of the tea varieties and tea craftwork in India and Ceylon is Wuyi tea. The story that an Englishman named Fortune has been told for so many times. In America, the iced tea culture is also derived from Wuyi tea. In Southeast Asia, Wuyi tea is a daily consumer product in many households. Therefore, from the above discussion, we can see that Wuyi tea has supported a huge system of tea industry among the whole world. The history of Wuyi tea is one of the origins of cultural confidence of the Chinese history. Therefore, it deserves the respect of the whole world. The book The Classic of Wuyi Tea is written for the world as well.


A great landmark for the revival of tea industry.


In the new era, Fujian tea industry continues to lead the whole country in tea varieties, number of certified seeds, total production yield, tea-related industries and the construction of famous tea brands, just as it is shown in the article “On the Quick Rise of Tea Brands in China” written by a well-known brand researcher, Mr. Xie Fuliang. These are the contributions of Wuyi tea.


Traditionally, the production modes of Wuyi tea are the same as other places in China. Wuyi tea uses the smallholder production mode, which features a small-scale and decentralized operation method. Therefore, this production mode cannot react quickly to the market changes, and is lacking of necessary technology innovation and seed improvement. It is criticized by the book All about Tea that the promotion of Chinese tea lacks organization and intensity, especially in the modern times. Even India and Ceylon did better than China in these aspects. The Indian tea association established the science and technology department as early as the year or 1900, and has already published many scholarly articles and books, and made many technology innovations and seeds improvements. Even though, Wuyi tea has still made many technology innovations for China. Mr. Wu Juenong founded the first national tea research institution in Wuyi Mountain, and has made a lot of important scientific achievements, such as The Cultivation and Marketing of Wuyi Tea by Lin Fuquan, and The Soil of Wuyi Rock Tea by Wang Zenong. Even the Wuyi tea producers feel very proud of themselves. Chen Chuan once said that “the producing technology of Wuyi rock tea is unique, uncomparalled, the most advanced, and is the pride of China”. Nowadays, carrying forward the traditions, Wuyi tea enterprises is now full of new vitality. In the Wuyi Mountain area, many tea enterprises are closely related with scientific research, being enterprises and research institutions, factories and laboratories at the same time. If you try to get along with the inheritors of Wuyi rock tea (Da Honf Pao), the World Cultural Heritage, you would see a great power that is trying to revive the Chinese tea industry from them. They are all doing a great job in the quality and technology control, cultivation and improvement of tea trees, further processing, construction of organic tea plantation, brand construction, and circulation mode of tea products during the industrialization process.


The fate of tea reflects the rise and fall of the whole nation. Incorruptible politics, prosperous economics, innovative technology and creative art works are the premises of the healthy development of tea industry. Both tea and tea industry will rejuvenate against the huge background of the great revival of the Chinese nation. The Classic of Wuyi tea loyally record the history, while at the same time summarizes the newest technological and cultural improvements. Therefore, it can be used to predict and guide the development of Wuyi tea industry, both from the perspective of inside tea industry and outside tea industry, such as international trade, transportation and even natural disasters. It is about the tea affiars, tea producers and tea enterprises. However, only one book cannot cover all the aspects of Wuyi tea. Therefore, the principle of The Classic of Wuyi Tea is to carry forward the Wuyi tea culture from the perspective of industrialization development. Four things need to be done in order to improve the Wuyi tea industry. First, tea varieties need to be integrated with each other, and tea industries need to be connected with other industries. Second, other elements, such as technology and capital, should be introduced into tea industry. The completion of The Classic of Tea by Lu Yu, is also pushed forward by the tea merchants at that time. Third, More cultural resources need to be dug out. North Fujian area is not only an important tea producing area, but also an important habitat of traditional culture. “Traditional Chinese culture lies in Mountain Tai and Mountain Wuyi”. Therefore, when we are exporting tea, we are exporting out culture as well. This will definitely be the background for the sustainable development of tea industry. It is more difficult to carry forward the tea culture than to carry forward tea itself. The fourth important thing is creativity. The Chinese people use their wisdom to make the bitter tea eaves come alive, so tea can best embody the creativity of Chinese people. Wuyi tea retains the diversity of tea varieties. In the future, the standardization of Lipton is an inevitable path to go. We can develop tea research, education and tourism relying on the diversity of Wuyi rock tea.


The tea varieties of North Fujian area is very diversified and. This is the result of both culture heritage and active international communications. Maybe, this is also one of the important the reasons why Wuyi tea continues to reach new peaks through the ups and downs of thousands of years.