China is the world's No. 1 country in terms of tea production and consumption.
In this article, I’m going to introduce the history of tea in China along a chronological line.
The history of tea in China
Let's take a look at the history of tea in China along a timeline.
Tang Dynasty (618-907)
The custom of drinking tea spread throughout China during the Tang Dynasty.
However, the common people were unable to drink tea, which was a luxury item, and it was generally recognized as a present to the emperor or a drink for the aristocracy.
It is said that the mainstream of tea at that time was solid tea called “Heicha”.
Heicha is a kind of tea made by solidifying steamed tea leaves. You can drink it by putting it in hot water after roasting it with fire.
By the way, Heicha was first introduced to Japan through Japanese envoys to the Tang Dynasty.
Origin of Chakyo (Tea Sutra)
Also during the Tang Dynasty, the oldest book on tea in the world, Chakyo (Tea Sutra) was written.
The author of Chakyo was a literary man, Rikuu, who is said to be the originator of the tea ceremony.
In this book, he wrote all kinds of information related to tea such as the origin, production method, history and production area.
Also, he wrote that tea is not just a beverage, but is described as “should be drunk by a man of virtue”.
Song Dynasty (960-1279)
In the Song Dynasty, not only aristocrats and government officials but also the wealthy common people started to drink tea.
In this period, the production method of Heicha, which was mainstream in the Tang Dynasty, became a little complicated and came to be called “Dancha”.
Also, it was around this time that the culture of “Tocha (tea ceremony)” which was practiced in Japan from the Kamakura to the Muromachi periods, began to flourish.
Tocha is a kind of game to determine the origin and quality of the tea by drinking it.
Development of tea utensils
In the Song Dynasty, tea utensils began to be recognized as an important tool for the enjoyment of tea.
This led to the development of technologies for making white porcelain to enjoy the color of tea, and celadon porcelain to enjoy the color of containers.
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
In the Ming Dynasty, tea became even more popular, and not only the rich but also the common people began to drink tea.
Dancha required time and effort to produce and its taste was not so good.
In the Ming Dynasty, the tea called Sancha was made by crushing the tea leaves into small pieces with a mortar or other tool.
It is said that Sancha had become popular because the taste and aroma have greatly improved compared to Dancha.
Until the Ming Dynasty, kyusu (teapots) were mainly made of iron or silver, but in this period, ceramic kyusu were made and used.
The Qing Dynasty (1616-1912)
The Qing Dynasty was the most prosperous of tea in Chinese history.
Oolong tea, which is familiar to us today, was developed in Fujian Province during this period.
It also gave birth to a culture of taking time to enjoy tea with a focus on tea utensils.
Here I will introduce some of the tea culture and historical backgrounds of the Qing Dynasty.
Formation of various ways to enjoy tea
In the Qing Dynasty, people enjoyed tea in various ways.
Specialty tea was produced in various regions, and six major teas (blue tea, Chinese black tea, green tea, black tea, white tea, and yellow tea) were sold in the market.
In addition, it seems that the preferred tea in each region was different.
People in Zhejiang and Jiangsu preferred to drink green tea, while people in the northern region preferred to drink flower tea.
Export of tea to England
One of the characteristics of the Qing Dynasty was the mass production of black tea.
Especially after the Qing Dynasty allowed European countries to start trade in 1685, a large amount of tea was exported to other countries.
England was its largest trading partner, and for the Qing, tea was a great means of obtaining silver.
However, while England imported a large amount of tea, China did not import much from England, creating a significant trade imbalance.
So England tried to recover the silver by selling opium to China, which triggered the famous “Opium War”.
In this way, China at that time was proud of its tea production so much that the domestic situation was affected by the tea.
In modern China, tea is popular as a national drink.
Both production and consumption are the highest in the world, and today’s China can be said to be a “Tea Country”.
“The most popular tea in China is not oolong tea or jasmine tea, but green tea.” says Wang Jing of Osaka University, Depatment of Tourism.
Chinese green tea differs from Japanese tea in that it is roasted in an iron pot without being steamed, so it has a simple taste than Japanese tea.