The core of a nation is reflected by its tea lore. This is particularly true in the case of China, where the country’s practical yet spiritual essence is reproduced in “Chayi” – “the art of drinking tea”.
The founding of tea in China
According to legend, tea was a gift to the world from ancient China over 2000 years ago. It started by spontaneous revelation, much like Newton being knocked out by an apple, when Emperor Shennong who was fond of experimenting, tasted dried Camellia Sinensis leaves that had accidentally fallen into his cup of boiling water and marvelled at the refreshing results!
From then onwards, this delectable drink grew and prospered in usage and popularity through the Chinese Dynasties, acquiring new flavours and rendering new benefits that make it what it is today in China- not just a national drink with medicinal, rejuvenating properties but a cultural experience.
Tea: The spirit of China
“Cha” (tea) is a symbol of the spirit of China, perhaps this is why it plays a significant role in its rituals- not only is it a household staple throughout all social classes, it has its own place in precious ceremonies like traditional Chinese weddings and festivals where the serving of tea is a heartfelt gesture of respect and gratitude.
The type and taste of the tea being consumed could even be an indication of one’s personality and from classic Chinese novels with the flavour of tea in them, it can be derived that the ingredients used to make tea depended on age and social status during the ancient times. Even now tea flavours and even tea wares should typically blend in with the surroundings of the drinker whether it be plum blossoms drifting through the air or the full moon gliding across the sky as well as the nature of the accompanying people.
Teas in China
Similar to our home, Sri Lanka, China grows a vast variety of tea; the sharply flavoured Green tea, the mysterious Yellow Tea- rare because of its unique fermentation process, the subtle White tea, the Oolong tea with its beautifying properties and the fragrant Black tea. There is an equally astounding selection of tea sets which are vital for contributing a unique flavour and atmosphere to the tea. These comprise of economical bamboo and wood sets, artistic porcelain sets, beautiful lacquer containers, pottery sets which retain and exude the soothing fragrance of the beverage and those of glass which allow the brewing process to be witnessed.
Today tea is abundantly available in China, be it imperial teahouses like that of Wuhan or tea streets and markets like those in Beijing (Maliandao Tea Street) and Shanghai (Tianshan Tea City). Different regions of China have their own favourite tea type, for instance, in Eastern China green tea is more popular than in Northern China in which scented teas reign supreme.
Among its many uses, tea is also used in food such as “tea eggs” as a seasoning and in making tealeaf pillows that drive out headaches; the scent of burning tea leaves also makes an effective mosquito-repellent!
The tea lore of China is beautifully loyal to its history and progressive discoveries as a nation and represents its culture’s infusion of materialism and spiritualism in the physical act of drinking tea and the pacifying and healing that it brings.
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