As the second most consumed beverage in the world after water, tea (茶, Cha, Camellia Sinensis), is much more than just a drink. Having been cultivated and consumed for thousands of years, with an origin that is still steeped in a veil of mystery, there is just something about tea that continues to inspire and implore human beings to even just get up in the morning. The purpose of this guide is to provide to readers, tea lovers, tea haters, tea novices, anyone, everything about tea, and then some. This is not just a list of teas. This is not just a history of tea. This is a compendium of tea in all its glory, from its origins and cultural significance, to the economics and rituals of tea.
Fragrant leaves, delicate buds.
Admired by poets, loved by monks.
Crushed with white jade, filtered through red gauze.
Cauldron brewed to the color of gold, served in cups aswirl in bubbles.
Inviting the moon at night for company, facing alone the twilight before the sunrise.
Feeling energized in past or present, praise fully rinsing away drunkenness."
"Drink your tea slowly and reverently,
as if it is the axis
on which the world earth revolves
slowly, evenly, without
rushing toward the future;
Live the actual moment.
Only this moment is life."
Thich Nhat Hanh
It is difficult to go further without stating, what exactly is tea? Most simply put, it is a beverage usually prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. While simple sounding, this actually gives us two ideas of what tea is;
While obviously not contradictory or by any means concepts far removed from one another, they are distinctions to keep in mind. For example the magnificently spicy masala chai is tea. But it is not a plant. There are no “masala chai leaves”. Masala chai (“chai” means tea, more about that later!) is a drink using Black tea leaves as a base, with other spices, herbs and milk added in. So while tea as a drink can be pretty varied as we will soon see, “tea” the plant is not as diverse as one may suppose.
The tea plant itself is actually a type of evergreen tree or shrub. Its origins are located in the humid and semi-tropical area of southern China, Burma and India. The name Camellia is the Latin name of the flowering plant family the tea plant is classified in. Sinensis is the Latin term meaning “from China”. Meanwhile in Chinese the plant is known as “茶花/ Cháhuā/ Tea Flower”. While the list of tea leaves is extensive, Green tea, Yellow tea, Black tea, Oolong tea, Pu’er tea, all of them come from one of the two major types of tea plant
What sets the different types of tea leaves apart is the fashion in which they are harvested and prepared for consumption. It is possible to make beverages known as “tea” from other sources. For example, Yerba Mate is made from a type of holly plant also called, “Yerba Mate”, and is, strictly speaking not camellia sinensis. Yerba Mate and other non Camellia sinensis teas will be featured in later sections, but the main focus for this guide and the bulk of the subsequent teas will be the Camellia sinensis tea plant.
"Immortals, hear, said Jove, and cease to jar! Tea must succeed to Wine as Peace to War. Nor by the grape let man be set at odds, but share in Tea, the nectar of the Gods."
Peter Antine Motteaux
"Camellia sinensis originated in southeast Asia, specifically around the intersection of latitude 29°N and longitude 98°E, the point of confluence of the lands of northeast India, north Burma, southwest China and Tibet. The plant was introduced to more than 52 countries, from this 'centre of origin'." (Mary Lou Heiss; Robert J. Heiss. The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide. citing Mondal (2007) p. 519)”
And it is here, we get a rather factual and specific answer to “where does tea come from”. In regards to when and where people first began to consume tea, the answer is usually somewhere in Yunnan province in China. The time, some 3000-5000 years ago most likely during China’s Shang dynasty. Some records state the drink was purely medicinal until it migrated to neighboring Sichuan province where it began to be consumed for pleasure, too.
Call me a romantic, but it is the two mythical origin stories of tea that I prefer the most. There may be some deals of truth in these tales. So their retelling, while certainly entertaining, may give us some ideas on the origins, or at least the significance of tea in antiquity.
The first, and the most ancient, is the story of its discovery by China’s Emperor Shennong. China’s semi-mythical emperor, Shennong (神農) translated humbly as, “Divine Farmer/Peasant” or alternatively “Agriculture God”, is said to have lived about 5000 years ago and taught the people of prehistoric China all sorts of governing and agricultural techniques.
He is also said to have not only written an extensive treaty on medicinal plants and herbs, but to have tried all of them individually himself. By tasting them. One day, he was sitting outside with a bowl of hot water to drink. Leaves from a nearby tree, perhaps the first wild camellia sinensis plant, was blown by the wind, into the bowl. He drank the water that had been infused with the leaves. Noticing it had a pleasant taste and effect on his mind and body, he spread knowledge of tea to the people. He also used it as an antidote while tasting potentially harmful plants.
Depictions in art of Emperor Shennong are incredible, with him alternatively looking like an old human ruler, or adorned with horns, claws a flowing beard and wearing the clothes of a mountain ascetic or Daoist Immortal. Draped in leaves and vines like a truly wild man, reminiscent of Dionysus/Bacchus, albeit probably far more socially responsible. And interested in all medicinal herbs and tea, rather than just grapes or the plants used to compile the thyrsus.
Another legend attributes the creation of tea to Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma was an Indian, Sri Lankan or Persian Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th or 6th century. Like Shennong, there is a great deal of mystery whether he was real or not, too. Tales about his life are ripe with epic exploits, like crossing the ocean by balancing one foot on a leaf. He is also credited with introducing Chan (禅, 선, Zen, jhāna ) Buddhism to China and introducing martial arts to the Shaolin monastery.
Among other things, Bodhidharma was known for his intense temper and physicality. One story says that while meditating in a cave by staring at a wall for years on end, he fell asleep. When he woke up he was in such a furious rage at himself that he began tearing and clawing at his eyes until he ripped his eyelids clear off. After hurling them to the ground the first tea plant sprung up. He grabbed the leaves and began to chew on them. Feeling refreshed and awake after consuming the leaves, it became tradition for monks to consume tea while they also took part in their mentally, spiritually and physically grueling lifestyles. This also explains the image of Bodhidharma in Buddhist art where he is portrayed with enormously wide, piercing eyes.
Both these stories, like many other myths and legends, convey some truths. Certainly, according to historical records and archeological evidence, tea was a widely consumed beverage even for rulers. This tradition may have predated some written records even for the time and so while the origins are lost, tea’s legacy as a medicinal drink is conveyed in the tale of Shennong.
The story of Bodhidharma is significant, too. Tea became incredibly closely tied to Buddhism in Asia. Similar to viticulture during Christianities spread in Europe, so too did tea become a beverage associated with the Buddhism religious structure. Tea plants were introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks, and most tea plantations in Korea were situated and cultivated by Buddhist monks. And tea was not only a medicinal or energy boosting drink in the Buddhist religious world, it was also used for ritual purposes as well. The story of Bodhidharma conveys this close association, too.
The Way of Tea
“A friend presented me
With tender leaves of Oolong tea,
For which I chose a kettle
Of ivory-mounted gold,
A mixing-bowl of snow-white earth.
With its clear bright froth and fragrance,
It was like the nectar of Immortals.
The first bowl washed the cobwebs from my mind -
The whole world seemed to sparkle.
A second cleansed my spirit
Like purifying showers of rain,
A third and I was one of the Immortals -
What need now for austerities
To purge our human sorrows?
Worldly people, by going in for wine,
Sadly deceive themselves.
For now I know the Way of Tea is real.”
Chio Jen (Tang Dynasty)
So now we move into the real bones and marrow of the subject matter, the different types of tea that there are. This may be one of the most important subjects presented in the Dao De Cha for the simple reason that it presents information that will be sought by anyone on the tea lover spectrum.
We’ve mentioned the camellia sinensis ad nauseum. But I’d like to reiterate it in regards to breaking down the different types of tea, because the most primordial of dissections between all teas occurs between the state of drying and post-picking care, but also which of the two main different types of camellia sinensis each of the leaves comes from.
While I will mainly discuss the two larger variants of the camellia sinensis, it should be noted there is a “third” variant, too. The “third” variant is a actually a kind of “hybrid” breed between the Chinese and Assam varieties. The different types are differentiated by the size of their leaves as well as their geography. The Chinese variety has smaller leaves, is typically cultivated on mountains and has a milder and sweeter taste than its Assam cousin. Chinese tea plants are usually used to make green, white, yellow and Oolong teas. The Assam variant has large leaves, enjoys more tropical growing conditions and is used to make black tea and fermented teas like pu’erh. The third hybrid variant exists that has a leaf size between the two main variants as well. But instead we will mainly focus on the Chinese and Assam varieties. An extra section will also be provided for non Camellia sinensis based teas like our South American friend, Yerba Mate, which is too delightful to ever ethically ignore!
To reduce the risk of making this guide seem too much like a Harry Potter spell book by throwing around Latin names (Chinese and other native names will be used to differentiate different types of teas), from now on, “Chinese tea plant” and “Assam tea plant” will be used instead. So let us take a look at the Chinese tea plant, leaf by marvelous leaf, starting by country. And beginning with, you guessed it, China.
I believe now is a good time to describe the various types of tea. By which I mean green, white, Oolong, black, yellow, fermented/dark/pu’erh, herbal/floral/infused and what I’ll call other. Some reading may ask, “why is pu’erh its own category but Jasmine isn’t?” That’s a great question, actually. I have added pu’erh to the dark/fermented category to make describing that section easier. Many people in the West especially have heard of pu’erh but maybe not the other dark and fermented teas (we have heard of dark beer, but that’s a section and discussion for another time). Jasmine is one of my personal favorites, especially the variety found in Okinawa. However, Jasmine is not its own leaf type, but rather a floral infusion of green, white or sometimes black tea. Jasmine will not be left out of Dao De Cha of course, however! Teas such as Rooibos and Honeybush will be in the “other/exceptional” category. This is for the same reason poor Yerba Mate will not be featured more heavily. For the fact they are not produced from the Camellia sinensis plant we all know and love. But these are still superb teas and also have a place in the Dao De Cha! The listing below is also on a scale from the least to the most oxidized teas. From the least oxidized white to the most oxidized fermented/dark tea.
Some debate surrounds white tea and what designates a tea as white rather than a different category of tea. Generally white tea is made from young and unopened tea leaves, twigs and buds. It is not oxidized or prepared as much as the other teas and the flavor is generally considered much “lighter” in comparison to other teas.
Related Article: What is White Tea? Origins, Taste And More
Green tea, the classic tea we all know and love. How is it different from the other teas listed below? Mainly that it does not go through the same withering, fermentation and oxidation process that would convert it into an Oolong, black or pu’erh.
Related Article: What is Green Tea? Origins, Taste And More
Yellow tea is often grouped under the same category as green tea. But it does differ with an additional step in the preparation of the leaves. The leaves are encased and steamed to let the leaves oxidize more slowly. The benefits of this additional step of preparation provides the tea with a milder taste and smell.
Related Article: What is Yellow Tea? Origins, Taste And More
The Oolong is a semi-oxidized tea. The name means “black dragon tea” with the character used for “black” meaning “black like a raven or crow”. This tea is less oxidized than black tea.
Related Article: What is Oolong Tea? Origins, Taste And More
What sets black apart from its brothers and sisters of the white, green and other varieties is the amount of oxidation used to prepare these teas. Oxidation is when the leaves of tea are converted into dried leaves. There are scores of styles and techniques for this, and the result with black tea is a stronger taste and much darker color. Black tea’s name in Chinese and most other Asian languages is actually, “red tea”. The name confusion comes from Dutch traders, who, seeing the tea bricks and leaves as black, called the tea “black tea”.
Related Article: What is Black Tea? Origins, Taste And More
Translated from the Chinese as “black tea”, but called in English as “fermented/dark” tea. The fermented teas are left to oxidize and ferment from months to many years. This causes many changes to occur in the tea even down to a microbial level. The color gets darker, the taste and aroma change a great deal. The mouth feel and experience of drinking the tea also changes. The microbes in the tea may even contribute to additional health benefits, especially ones having to do with feelings of satiation and digestion. The rock n’roll bad boy of the tea world, kombucha (the trendy fermented tea, not to be confused with Japanese kelp tea, also called kombu cha), is also under this category. Fermented teas are formed from green or Oolongs and also black teas.
Related Article: What is Pu'er Tea? Origins, Taste and More
I have grouped the infused teas together, not out of callousness or a sense of haughty snobbishness, but just to keep it simple. There are hundreds and hundreds of types of these teas that exist all over the world. I’d love to list them all, but that would be one long article for sure. Maybe someday after years of tea enthusiasm, I can compile them all into one source, but for now, these teas are usually based on green, Oolong, black or another variety of tea. Other herbs, spices, flowers and ingredients are combined to create another beverage, sometimes one without caffeine, sometimes one with caffeine. Most are brewed for health and medicinal purposes, but this does not exclude them from being delicious as well!
This final category also groups in beverages having the name, “tea” but not being strictly produced from the camellia sinensis plant. Many medicinal and folk remedy beverages fall into this category. For example a ginger tea made from honey and slices of ginger and lemon brewed in hot water may be considered “ginger tea”. In this case such a ginger tea would fall into the “other/exceptional” category. I’d prefer not to use “other” as it sounds almost insulting, so I tacked on the additional name, “exceptional”. What designates a tea as exceptional in the context of this list is if it is tea, but with the exception of not being made by our good friend, camellia sinensis. In which case we will make an exception for the beverage here.
This may be the most difficult category to assess simply due to the fact it is so incredibly diverse and nuanced. So I will do my best to record as many of these great drinks as possible here.
Chinese tea and tea consumption and culture have gone back centuries. Many regard China as the birthplace of tea, and indeed the tea plant originated within modern day China’s borders along with some other Asian countries borders.
Some of the first tea in Taiwan was said to be introduced from Fujian and its famous Wuyi mountain area. The earliest records of tea in Taiwan go back to the 1700’s when some of these first plants were brought from mainland China. Taiwan has served as a hub for tea cultivation and trade for generations. By 1860 Taiwan began exporting tea worldwide, often under the name “Formosa Oolong”, Formosa being an older name for Taiwan. Today, Taiwan is a competitive producer of tea, especially specialty variants and Oolong teas. Taiwan produces about 20% of the world’s Oolong teas and it has many prime and rich tea growing areas. The Oolong of Taiwan are world renowned and said to be the “Champagne of tea”. Bubble tea was also invented during the 80’s in Taiwan.
The origins of tea culture in Tibet aren’t certain but many scholars suggest tea was brought and popularized by princess Wenchang of Tang who was married to the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. From here tea culture became more widespread in Tibet. Tibet was also a major trading partner on the Tea Horse Road (Cha-ma-dao/ 茶马道) or Ancient/old Tea Horse Road (Cha-ma-gu-dao/茶馬古道). From the Tea Horse Road, or Southern Silk Road as it is also known, Tibet would trade horses for tea and other goods. One of the major trading sites was in Yunnan, and some believe the travel through many different types of terrain around the Himalayas and southern China caused the pu’erh tea from Yunnan to ferment and become what we know it as today. As vegetables and other plants are difficult to grow in Tibet, tea often serves as a nutritional staple to substitute the lack of vegetation. Butter tea is an especially famous type of Tibetan tea that is a major part of the Tibetan diet and culture.
Many Tibetan teas are enjoyed as infusions or mixed with other ingredients, herbs and spices. Brick tea is commonly used, especially pu’erh and black teas.
The first record of tea in Korea is traced back to queen Heo Hwang-ok during the Three Kingdoms era (57 B.C. to 668 A.D.). Queen Heo Hwang-ok was a princess from Ayodha, India and it is said she arrived in Korea presenting the Camellia sinensis var. assamica as a gift. During this time, many different herbal and floral teas were also consumed. Centuries after the legend of queen Heo Hwang-ok’s first teas plant, and the wider introduction of Chinese culture by Buddhist monks, tea, especially green tea, began to become more widespread in the peninsula. Tea flourished during the later Three Kingdoms, Later Silla and Goryeo eras, starting in earnest with Queen Seondeok of Silla importing tea from China. Tea, along with Chinese and Buddhist culture enjoyed a widespread propagation, with many tea plantations cultivated on land owned by monasteries and tea being used for religious rituals and rites. During Korea’s Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), tea ceremonies were transformed from devout Buddhist rituals to secular or Confucian practices and ancestral rites. Tea began to be enjoyed not just by the nobility, but by larger society as a whole. This also led to tea losing its place of reverence and as rivalry between the Joseon government’s Confucian and Neo-Confucian policies and Buddhism intensified, tea, which was still associated with Buddhism, was heavily taxed and monasteries and tea fields were even sometimes destroyed. After several wars with Japan, eventually resulting in the colonial period (1910-1945) and the subsequent Korean War, tea culture and plantations in Korea were almost eradicated. But starting in recent decades, both scholars and Buddhist monks have helped to rejuvenate and reinvigorate Korean tea and tea culture. Historically, Korea has served as a source of superbly crafted tea ware, especially in regards to earthenware cups and bowls that possess a natural and unpretentious artfulness, still considered among some of the most exquisite tea ware today. The tea producing regions of Boseong, Hadong and Jeju Island are renowned for their high quality tea.
Some of the earliest accounts of tea in Japan come from the Nara era (710-794). The initial contact with tea was experienced by envoys sent to Tang China’s capital of Chang’an. Tea and tea culture was intimately tied to Chinese and Buddhist culture. Tea was spread a number of ways, mainly by envoys, both Japanese returning from China, or envoys travelling from China and Korea. And Buddhist priests and monks, heading from Japan to study, or foreign monks travelling to Japan to proselytize and teach. All these different individuals brought back important aspects and artifacts from Chinese and Buddhist culture such poetry and other arts. The famed monks Kukai and Saicho were two monks in particular associated with bringing tea to Japan. Tea was not only patronized by Buddhist priests and monks, but even the Emperor patronized tea and encouraged the growth and cultivation of tea plants. By the medieval period and after being patronized by many famous monks, poets, samurai, warlords and emperors, tea took on epic proportions, with figures like Sen no Rikyu and the creation and formulation of the Japanese Tea Ceremony or Chanoyu/ Sado/Chado. The importance and role of tea in Japanese culture persists into the modern era, where Japan is still a powerhouse of tea production, preparation and consumption.
Vietnam is home to some of the oldest living tea plants in the world, especially in Ha Giang province. Vietnamese tea consumption and culture goes back thousands of years and predates contact with Chinese tea culture. Initially, peasants, farmers and rural communities would enjoy “fresh tea”. This way of enjoying tea involved individuals picking and gathering wild tea leaves from forests or highland areas, or from personal gardens to be ground or boiled and enjoyed as a family or as a community from a shared pot. With the increase in Chinese influence and a more stratified social structure, Sinicized tea ceremonies developed and were reserved for the wealthy and powerful in cities like Hanoi. The Sinicized style tea ceremonies and “Tra Dao”or “religion of tea” included expensive displays of opulence, measured and formalized brewing and serving methods, and the use of the Chinese style teapot. When Vietnam came under French colonial rule, the first plantation that cultivated tea for export was established in the 1800’s in Phu Tho province, which is still a breadbasket for tea today. After the turmoil of the Vietnam war and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Vietnam’s tea exports and culture faced a great deal of upheaval and strife. Today, Vietnamese tea culture as well as tea production for export and trade has been rejuvenated and is a testament to an ancient land of tea.
Tea consumption and tea culture in Thailand were traditionally attributed to two main groups. Various ethnic groups who inhabited the hills and highlands on the border between northern Thailand and China, and Chinese traders and settlers that came from both land and sea and settled in Thailand. For the ethnic groups in northern Thailand, like the Hmong and Labu, tea leaves were picked from wild tea trees in the jungle. The leaves were then made into a culinary treat called letpetor miang. To make this item, the leaves are steamed and packed into bamboo cylinders. The bamboo is then buried which allows the leaves to ferment for months. The resulting leaves are then not drunk, but instead served as a culinary dish alongside fried shrimp and other ingredients . Chinese merchants and settlers brought with them sinicized tea culture with an emphasis on Oolong tea. Black tea was also enjoyed and there even exists a native variant of the Assam tea plant in Thailand. Tea production, cultivation and export become more pronounced after an influx of Chinese settlers after the defeat of Chaing Kai Shek’s forces during China’s civil war. Many types of Oolong, black and green tea were brought to Thailand from Taiwan as well, where they flourished on plantations like Doi Mae Salong. Today, Thailand’s trademark tea is of course, the Thai Iced Tea, but many hybrid breeds developed from Taiwanese Oolongs and other sources thrive as well. Thailand’s northern region hosts a vast array of tea plantations.
Tea consumption in Cambodia is believed to have begun during the Angkorian era. During this time envoys and merchants from China travelled to the court of the Khmer empire, and, like in many countries in Asia, brought tea along as a distinct and amiable aspect of Chinese culture. Tea and tea culture may have also been spread and flourished along the trade and communication routes between the ancient homelands of tea found in China, Burma, India and other parts of the region. A Cambodian variant of the tea plant camellia assamica exists, it is called the lasiocalyx.Tea still plays a role in Cambodian life today, either as a leisurely pursuit or performed as a tea ceremony during traditional Cambodian weddings, where the bride and groom present offerings of tea to ancestral spirits. Green and black tea are both popular and often used to make jasmine and other aromatic teas.
Laos is home to some of the oldest tea trees in the world and is part of the original center of tea going back to prehistoric times. The practice of consuming tea predates contact with later Chinese tea culture, and includes enjoying the leaves for their medicinal and dietary value. Laos was also part of the Old Tea Horse Road and is credited with being a major producer of pu-erh and fermented tea even today. During Laos’s Lan Xang era which ruled from 1353 to 1707, tea became a major item for trade. When Laos became a French colony in the 1800’s, tea trees from Vietnam were imported to southern Laos, and research and study was conducted on the wild and ancient tea trees native to Laos. Especially the tea found in Xieng Khouang province and the Phou San area. Eventually tea cultivation in the southern part of Lao ceased as per a trade agreement between Britain and France in the 1930’s which protected British tea production in its Asian colonies. Occupation in World War II by Japanese forces helped to revive interest in tea production in Laos, but this also ceased at the onset of the Vietnam War. Today, Laos has been rebuilding its tea industry and capitalising on its ancient and exquisite tea trees and fine green, black and fermented teas.
The history of tea in Singapore most likely began with the early interactions between Chinese and Indian merchants, envoys, explorers, sailors, settlers and conquerors. Both Chinese and Indian styles of tea have their place in Singapore where they have taken on unique identities all their own. When Singapore was founded as a British port in the 1800’s, tea was an important trading commodity that passed from China through Singapore on its way to Britain and the rest of the world. For this reason, Singapore has played an important role in the development of tea culture and consumption outside of Asia. The most famous example of Singaporean tea is teh tarik, a tea developed by Indian Muslim immigrants after World War II. Another famous example of tea culture in Singapore is the diao yuor “tea fishing” method of steeping tea bags. This method is so named because one moves their tea bag around their cup akin to the way a fisherman moves their fishing line through water.
Tea in Malaysia goes back over 100 years when Chinese immigrants arrived, many of whom carrying boxes of green tea. Today Chinese tea culture still persists, with teas like green and jasmine still having a popular audience. The first tea plantations in Malaysia, however, began in the late 20’s when the British entrepreneur J.A. Russell established BOA plantations, which is still a major producer of tea in Malaysia today. in addition to these two previous tea influences, Muslim immigrants introduced the “pulled tea” or teh tarik beverage. This style of tea is similar to chai and is enjoyed by many people in Malaysia today.
Myanmar, formerly Burma is counted among the birthplace regions for tea. In fact a plethora of recent research suggests that Myanmar is THE birthplace of the camellia sinensisplant. While the myths and legends of Chinese tea regard China, specifically the Yunnan province region as tea consumption and culture’s place of origin, Myanmar has in recent years been regarded as its true birthplace instead. Tea in Myanmar was consumed both as a dietary staple as well as a beverage, mostly gathered by individuals from wild trees. Being at the crossroads between India and China has had an influence on the further development of Myanmar’s tea culture, with both Indic and Sinicized forms of tea and tea culture. Like many other Asian countries with a substantial tea culture, Buddhism has played a role in facilitating the growth and development of tea as both a source of ritual as well as recreation with street food and culinary culture also incorporating tea. One of the national dishes of Myanmar is lahpet,which is a dish made with pickled tea leaves. The modern development of commercial tea plantations does however reflect British colonial influence, but tea consumption and culture in Myanmar predates this cultural interaction. A wild variant of the camellia sinensis,the camellia irrawadiensisis native to Myanmar.
The first tea plants in Indonesia were brought to the islands by a German citizen named Andreas Cleyer. Cleyer had brought the seeds from japan and planted them in Batavia as an ornamental plant. By the 1700’s, the Dutch established many tea plantations to compete with British tea operations in Asia. Originally with plants from China, until it was found the Assam and Indian varieties were better suited to the hot, humid and tropical climate of the islands. The production of tea continued until the upheavals of World War II temporarily halted the production of tea, mostly black tea, in Indonesia. The next big disruption would come in the modern era where palm oil production would disrupt tea cultivation as many tea plantations have been converted into palm oil plantations instead. Today, indonesia is the 7th largest tea producing nation in the world.
Tea in India and south Asia still has an air of mystery and ambiguity in regards to the precise time when tea was consumed as a beverage. India’s Assam region is of course one of the many original birthplaces of the camellia sinensisand so wild tea plants may have been used by people inhabiting tea rich regions since antiquity. some theories claim that it was used under a different name, used in Ayurveda but only as a medicinal ingredient as opposed to a recreational one, and other theories that the legendary substance/drink “soma” found in Hindu epic and religious literature may in fact be tea. Some claims also include that tea consumption is recorded in the epic poem the Ramayana. But these theories have yet to be fully substantiated. Tea consumption did however have concrete records around the time of the Middle Ages and continued until the colonial period. The colonial period in India saw the rise of large scale commercial plantations and farms, mostly in the production of black tea for export to the rest of the British Empire. Over time, tea became a fixture and facet of Indian life. Some of the most famous teas found in India and the rest of South Asia include the Assam, Ceylon and Darjeeling varieties. One of the most well known Indian style teas is masala chai, itself a beverage made from black tea and various other ingredients, herbs and spices. This list includes tea found in other countries of South Asia aside from India, but will be included with special mention of their distinct national origin and identity.
Nepal had maintained an isolationist policy under the rule of the Rana dynasty which reigned from 1800 to the early 1900’s. while the first tea plants were said to be a gift from the Emperor of China to one of the Rana clan Prime Ministers of Nepal, the cultivation of large scale tea plantations, was influenced by the introduction of Darjeeling hybrid plants from British India. Today, Nepal produces its own tea, and has an overseeing body, the Himalayan Orthodox Tea Producers Association. some of the rules enforced by the association includes production and harvesting techniques that promote respect towards nature, humans, the production and quality systems. Nepalese tea is often divided into two main types, Orthodox and CTC or Crush, tear curl. CTC was developed to mass harvest and process Assam tea leaves, and accounts for a huge portion of Nepal’s tea product.
Russia’s first contact with tea and tea culture began in the 1500’s when the Cossack leaders Petrov and Yalyshev paid a visit to China. Tea was introduced again another time in 1638 when the Tsar, Michael I received a large gift of tea from a Mongol ruler. Initially these gifts of tea were seen as devoid in value, nothing more than just some dried leaves, but on the insistence of the Khan, it was accepted. in the following years, tea caravans would make the trek from China to various trading posts in Central Asia and eventually to European Russia. When Russia annexed Siberia, the tea caravans operated on what came to be called the Siberian Route or the Moscow Highway. Over time, the camel caravans hauling bricks of mostly black tea were replaced by the Trans-Siberian railroad. with the use of the modern railroad, more tea could be hauled much faster. and by the 1900’s Russia had established some of its first tea plantations. Russian tea culture is very rich and found in many aspects of society. Some distinctive features of Russian tea include the large steel container for boiling water, the samovar(самовар),as well as the podstakannik(подстака́нник), an ornate steel holder for hot tea glasses. Russian tea is often served with refreshments and garnished with sugar, lemon, or even jam. a type of tea blend known as “Russian Caravan” exists, so named after the famous Siberian Route.
Mongolian tea culture goes back to contact with Han Chinese culture about 2000 years ago. Due to Mongolia’s harsh climate, tea served as not just a stimulating drink but also a dietary supplement as well. Trade between Chinese and Mongolians often saw the exchange of sturdy Mongolian horses with Chinese tea. Even into modern times, tea with butter and salt is a staple of a Mongolian diet. Wild tea plants also grow in Mongolia, where they served as both the basis of drinks as well as a vegetative supplement. Tea also holds a ritual and spiritual function, where every morning tea is spilt around the yurt, or tent, in tribute to the god of nature and the sky. Mongolia served as a major avenue of trade for tea and other goods across Asia for centuries.
Central Asian Tea Tea in Central Asia was introduced during the time of the overland Silk Road, where goods from across Africa, Europe and Asia were transported far and wide. Here Central Asia functioned as a massive hub of trade, and here tea was consumed and enjoyed. Originally tea from the camellia sinensis plant remained expensive for the general populace, so tea made from alternative herbs and ingredients was brewed for a long time instead. Eventually, tea was accessible by all and the favored type was black and occasionally green tea. In Central Asia the choykhona is the tea house which serves as a social hub as well. Central Asian tea is often served to guests and enjoyed from a bowl-like cup known as a piala.
Tea culture in Iran began towards the end of the 15th century. Prior to this time, coffee had demonstrated great hegemony on the Persian caffeinated beverage market. But, through its connection to the Silk Road, tea from India and China reached Persia where it developed its own unique style and culture. Tea rivaling coffee as a major beverage came about due to logistical issues with shipping coffee at the time. With China and India close to Iran and tea being able to be transported as bricks with longer shelf life than many types of coffee beans, tea became far easier to import. But growing was difficult. the first attempts to grow native Persian tea failed in the 1800’s until Prince Mohammed Milza brought 3000 tea plant saplings from India where he was the ambassador, and after thorough experimentation and trial and error found the perfect regions for Iranian tea. Gilan and Mazandaran are two regions south of the Caspian Sea, and due to their unique geography and climate, affected by the sea that they border, these regions are perfect for tea cultivation. The tea most produced and consumed in Iran is black tea, and Iranian black tea has a distinct hue ranging from pinkish, to ruby, to maroon, depending on how much the drinker has chosen to dilute the tea’s strength. The flavor is said to be sweet and not requiring milk or sugar like other types of black tea. Iranian tea culture is vivacious and tea is often served in ornate glass cups and beautifully decorated samovars are used to heat the water for the tea. The tradition of using samovars is also found in Russia, Central Asia and some other parts of West Asia and Eastern Europe. Tea houses in Iran are called chaikhanehsand they serve as communal meeting places. Iranian tea, especially when served at a chaikhaneh is accompanied by sweets like dried fruit and other confectionary treats. Tea is part of hospitality culture in Iran and guests are almost always served tea when they enter a home.
To be clear, this current section is meant to encapsulate the regions between Iran, Turkey and Sub-Saharan Africa. The countries represented in this profile will include both Arab and non-Arab countries of North Africa and the Middle East. The cultures included will also include both Muslim and the many non-muslim cultures of these regions. To begin with our background on tea in these regions, previously, like in Iran and Turkey, coffee was the drink of choice. but with various government and religious institutions restricting the access of coffee and alcohol to the general populace, and trade beginning to open up with India and China in the 1600’s via Iran and other regions, tea started to take coffee and alcohols place. By the 1700’s with more contact with the British Empire, tea started to become a more affordable commodity and consumed more readily. Today tea is known in Arabic as, شاي, or shaail or say. Tea is part of hospitality culture in many Arab countries and is served to guests. Both teapots and tea ware can be very intricate and elegant, featuring grandiose and exquisite designs.
While Turkey was a major player on the Silk Road, where tea was transported and traded throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, tea drinking and tea culture did not begin to develop until the 1800’s. Tea houses began operating in Istanbul, and tea was also further popularized by being touted as a health tonic. After World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, coffee became a more difficult commodity to obtain. Meanwhile, tea was able to be produced domestically, most famously in Turkey’s Rize region which borders the Black Sea. The founder of the modern state of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk promoted tea consumption as tea was not only domestically sustainable but also far more affordable for the general populace than Turkish coffee at the time. A famous brand of Turkish tea is Caykur, which is produced in the Rize region as well. Turkish tea culture is very vibrant and tea consumption is a regular part of daily life and hospitality culture in Turkey. Turkish tea is served in a similar manner to Turkish coffee, with two-tiered kettles called, çaydanlık, and in tulip-shaped ornate glasses and from intricate and exquisitely crafted teapots. Black tea is usually the tea of choice and beet sugar is used to sweeten tea. While milk with black tea is common in other parts of the globe, in Turkey this is an uncommon practice.
Tea in Africa refers to any and all the countries found in the African continent that feature tea and tea culture in their cuisine. Tea culture in Africa is very antiquated, with some sources citing the Egyptian polymath Imhotep as enjoying various tisanes and infusions. In addition to ancient Egyptian tea brewing, the art of brewing leaves, roots, fruits and other ingredients as health tonics and elixirs is found in many traditional cultures throughout the continent. Tea made from camellia sinensisin Africa is also quite antiquated with some accounts attesting to camellia sinensisbeing brewed for tea in the first century in countries like Somalia. But it was during the 13th century with increased trading over the Maritime Silk Road across the Indian Ocean that saw a large increase in camellia sinensis consumption in Africa. During the Ming Dynasty and following voyages by explorers from China like Zhang He and his famous treasure fleet as well as African explorers and scholars such as Ibn Battuta and Sa’id of Mogadishu. The trade network between East Africa and Asia continued until Chinese isolationism took place in the 1400’s. From this time on, European traders sailing back to Europe from Asia, began stopping on their way in Africa. This allowed the tea trade to continue. During the age of colonialism, tea and tea culture from Britain and other colonial nations was imposed on African colonies, as well as tea plantations, most notably in Kenya, which is today the third largest producer of tea. With the fall of colonialism and African nations gaining their independence, tea has become both a source of export income as well as part of many African cultures today. Tea culture is diverse throughout Africa, with mint tea being enjoyed in North Africa, East Africa hosting a wide array of different teas, Kenya producing green, white, black and yellow tea and South Africa being famed for the non-camellia sinensis, rooibos. Some regions use exquisite tea kettles and specific types of cups, and other regions and cultures have special tea ceremonies. Tea is often part of hospitality culture, and like in many other parts of the world black tea is one of the most popular types of tea to enjoy. Indian immigrants brought their own styles of black tea, especially masala chai which can be found in many African countries.
The first European country to have contact with camellia sinensis tea was Portugal. In 1516 Portuguese traders and merchants arrived in China, where they reported on the consumption of black tea. From here and the trade monopoly Portugal had with China and Japan, Portugal was able to possess exclusive trading rights for tea until the 17th century when Britain and the Netherlands overtook their trade hegemony in Asia. Tea was spread as a commodity all around Europe by the mid 1600’s, but it was England’s Royal Family that adopted the trend and made a daily event of tea consumption. It was from the adoption of tea and tea culture by England’s monarchy that made tea such a large part of British society. Ireland and Great Britain are the two largest tea consumers in Europe, but other countries in Europe enjoy tea, mostly of the black variety with green and herbal tea increasing in popularity as well. Portugal was not only the first country to introduce tea to western Europe, but also produces tea on the Azores islands. Central European countries and regions like Germany’s East Frisia is known for its tea culture as are the Czech Republic and Slovakia. France, too has a tea culture, one that is featured in the works of writer Marcel Proust.
Tea is a large part of Australian culture. The Aborigines of Australia brewed an herbal tea from the “ti tree”. Though not camellia sinensis, the name was the same as the one used by the British when they landed in Australia in the late 1700’s. Australian tea culture is heavily influenced by British tea culture, such as afternoon tea and other practices of British origin. Australia also cultivates tea, mostly of the green and black varieties.
Many different types of herbal teas were brewed by the indigenous cultures of both North and South America for centuries before European and possibly also Asian contact. The teas brewed by native people were often used for healing, health, refreshment or ritual purposes and many of these teas are still brewed today. Many countries and regions on both continents are influenced by the indigenous groups who originally lived there, the European groups who colonized there, later immigrant groups who migrated to said country or region and the culmination of all of these factors to make a distinct and unique culture of tea all its own.
An important part of tea history and culture in North American would certainly be the Boston Tea Party. Prior to this event, tea was introduced to the American colonies by the Dutch in their colony of New York, from then on all classes in the colonies drank tea, and in some places, the leaves were eaten as a vegetable with butter. The Boston Tea Party took place when American colonists, angry with taxes they perceived as unfair imposed on them by their British rulers, destroyed an expensive load of tea in Boston Harbor, costing their British overlords a great sum of money in damages. From this time on, tea was considered unpatriotic and coffee or non-camellia sinensis tea was consumed instead. Tea in the United States eventually came back into style in the 70’s when the People’s Republic of China resumed trade with America. Today, iced and sweet tea are enjoyed in the American South where it is a feature of hospitality culture. specialty teas, herbal teas, health teas and authentic tea from Asia have all come into vogue and the United States has a large list of alcoholic teas as well. Canada also has a tea culture influenced by Great Britain, immigrants from regions with tea cultures and modern interest in teas for health and trend purposes. Canada also has a vibrant herbal tea culture that was started by the indigenous people of Canada, many of these teas were used in sweat lodges and other religious and spiritual practices. One of particular note is pine needle tea, brewed by native people in Canada as a source of vitamin C. Some tea companies that originated in North America include Argo Tea, Bigelow Tea Company, Celestial Seasonings, Snapple, AriZona and Tazo which were all founded in the United States and Salada Tea which was founded in Montreal. Tea bags were also invented in the United States.
South and Central America also have tea cultures, especially the tea culture centered around the consumption of Yerba Mate. Yerba Mate was first brewed by the Guarani and Tupi people of Brazil and Paraguay. Yerba Mate is made from the Ilex paraguariensisplant, a type of holly. When Europeans arrived in South America, they not only embraced the drink but also set up plantations for the yerba mate plant around the continent. It is common to find people enjoying yerba mate throughout the day in Argentina and other parts of South America, most often with the traditional calabash gourd mug and the silver bombilla straw. Different types of teas were also introduced to Brazil by the Portuguese. Eventually, plantations to cultivate tea were also introduced, but fell into disuse for some time. In the ‘20’s Japanese immigrants revivided tea cultivation in the Brazilian Highlands.
“On a cold winter night
a friend dropped by.
We did not drink wine
but instead drank tea.
The kettle bubbled,
the coals glowed,
the bright moon shone
outside my window.
The moon itself
was nothing special-
but, oh, the plum-tree
Tu Hisaio Shan,
“LuYu Visits a Tea Water Well”.
The previous section presented the universality of tea, cataloguing and detailing as much as possible with the resources we currently have about the diversity of tea around the world. The next piece of the larger tea picture now will be the preparation methods employed. The previous section also touched upon some brewing and tea preparation methods, this section will go into a bit more detail about these. Types of tea pots and some brewing techniques will also have a presence in this section of the guide.
Originally, hot brewing was one of the only options to enjoy tea, that is, unless the leaves were being prepared as a culinary dish as they are in various cuisines from around the world. And while many cultures have maintained the tradition of brewing tea with hot water, there are different modes that have been utilized. From steel to silver to clay pots. The profundity of tea brewing has differed around the world, too. Tea can be brewed for purely the caffeine content; it can be brewed as an accoutrement to socializing. And in the case of the Japanese tea ceremony, it can be a mode of spiritual reflection and fulfillment. The simplicity of brewing can amount to pouring hot water on a tea bag and letting it steep for a few minutes, to the elaborate washing and re-brewing found in the traditional preparation of pu’erh. Today more nuance than even these exists, with hot brewing no longer being the exclusive mode of tea preparation. Cold brew, ice brew, sun tea and even kombucha, which is prepared with a combination of boiling and cold preparation are all modes for preparing tea.
Easily the oldest, and for a long time, only, method of preparing tea. Even in the legend of tea starring the Divine Farmer, Shennong, it features him enjoying boiled water when the tea leaves serendipitously waft into his cup. The methods of brewing hot tea are manifold, one of the oldest being boiling the leaves in a steel cauldron and then pouring the hot water into cups where the leaves are already waiting. Other additional ancient methods of tea consumption include chewing the leaves raw, as is featured in some of the Buddhist alternative tea origin myths. Bodhidharma is usually said to have, “chewed” the leaves of the newly sprung green tea plant after ripping his eyelids off. Cooking the leaves is another method of preparation. Some cooking methods include steaming, boiling or frying the leaves.
While cold brew has become a popular and sensational brewing method for both coffee and tea in recent years, their origins are supposedly quite antiquated in comparison. Supposedly the cold brewing method of brewing tea originated in Japan in the 16th or 17th centuries, but it is possible the tradition started sooner. This method includes steeping tea bags or leaves in cold or room temperature for a few hours. This slow method allows the tea to gently and slowly release its flavor and makes for a different taste than when the same tea is hot brewed, one that many drinkers find to be less astringent and less harsh.
Different than ice tea, this method is a variation on cold brew, but includes placing the tea leaves or bags into a jar or other container with ice cubes, which are allowed to slowly melt and brew the tea over time.
Potentially invented as early as the 1800’s, this method of tea brewing came into vogue in the ‘70’s in the United States. The brewing method is also similar to cold brew. The tea is placed in a pitcher of water and left out in the sun; this drink was ideally made in the summer or other warmer or sunny seasons. Over time, the tea would be infused into the water in the pitcher. Recently this method of tea brewing has been discouraged because various types of bacteria can develop in the tea as there are no hot or boiling methods to kill any harmful bacteria. As an alternative, cold brewing is suggested.
A special mention goes to kombucha due to its unique styling of preparation in comparison to other more typical tea brewing techniques. Kombucha’s history has some mysterious aspects, generally said to have been first brewed anywhere from 200-2000 years ago in Northeastern China, today it is a popular beverage for its supposed health enhancing and promoting benefits as well as its unique taste and effects on the mind and body. Kombucha also has a much different brewing technique than other teas. First, water is boiled and mixed with sugar, then the tea leaves, either green or black, are steeped in the hot sugar water and then discarded after a few minutes. Next, the resulting liquid is cooled off and then goes through a series of steps leading to fermentation, usually by being mixed in with previously prepared kombucha and various fermented bacteria cultures. As kombucha is usually enjoyed chilled or cold, the final product is kept in a cool place before being consumed.
When it comes to charisma in the world of tea culture, the tea pot has always had a special place. Serving both the incredibly important functional role of being the conduit in which the tea is brewed as well as serving an aesthetic and personality function that gives the tea pot a special place in this guide. Tea sets are exquisite, and it is the tea pot that a set centers on, with the cups following suit with the leader of the set, the tea pot. Although the tea pot will be the main focus for this section, other tea ware items and accoutrements will also receive a special mention. Tea cups, mugs, and even tea cozies have not been forgotten!
The origins of the teapot, like tea itself, go back to China. During the Tang era, water was boiled in a cauldron, and then poured over leaves waiting in cups or bowls. After the Tang dynasty, came the Song dynasty, where ground tea leaves were served in bowls and stirred with a brush, the ancestor of both the gaiwan style of tea drinking as well as matcha tea, and the development of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. The first example of true tea pots as we would recognize them today have their origins in China during the reign of the Mongol Yuan dynasty. The prevailing theory is that the pots were based off the design used for ceramic wine jugs. Bronze, silver and other precious metals were also used to make exquisite tea pots. By the time of the incumbent Ming dynasty, tea pots would be commonplace and famous pots like the yixing would come into development. The original design of these early Chinese teapots were smaller than today’s standard teapot, this is because pots would be used by individuals, rather than communally. The smaller pots also served the role of keeping portions, flavors and aromas more concentrated and controlled by the brewer. Supposedly, the tea would be drunk straight from the spout of the pot, too.
When tea and tea culture eventually made their way to Europe in the 17th century, they were accompanied by porcelain teapots, many of which were painted in the “blue and white” under glaze style that became nearly synonymous with the Ming dynasty itself. The Chinese porcelain was highly coveted by the European upper classes. Not only was tea drinking a sign of wealth and status due to the expense of buying tea, but porcelain was impossible to produce in Europe at this time. Not only were these Chinese pots exotic and rare, but they also served the practical function of brewing the luxury beverage. Over time, European designers were able to craft porcelain ware, using the Chinese pots as a model and emulating their style. But in addition to porcelain, silver teapots were also crafted, especially in the colonial American city, Boston.
Clay teapots were first used in China in the early to mid-Renaissance period, or Yuan into Ming in the 15th century. Clay teapots, especially unglazed pots like the yixing have the special property of being able to absorb flavor and aroma from strong teas like pu’erh. This is because the clay itself is porous and can withhold lots of the residue necessary to give the pot character when brewing tea. The origins of the yixing in particular go back to the Song dynasty where they were developed near the city of Yixing in Jiangsu province. Other types and styles of clay pots spread around Asia and the rest of the world.
Developments in ceramic ware in China began far before the first tea pot was crafted out of porcelain, back during in the Han dynasty. Trade with China and the Islamic world also predates the first arrival of the luxuriant ceramic ware known as porcelain in Europe by a couple hundred years. Initially ceramic tea pots were more simplistic in their designs and decor. But with porcelain, a more highly refined design began to develop.
Korea also became a major center for pottery and ceramic ware. First, with earthenware pottery and then porcelain ceramic wares. Two dynastic eras in Korea’s history are even known for the style and color of their ceramics and tea ware. During Korea’s Goryeo era, celadon, a soft turquoise color was favored. Many exquisite celadon items were crafted including tea and wine ewers shaped like dragons and other mythological creatures. Korea’s following dynasty, Joseon, also was known for superb pottery, this time, favoring white. Joseon white ceramics, especially tea ware reflect the Korean dynasty’s state political philosophy, Neo-Confucianism, which favors the color white due to its association with purity. In the late 1500’s the Imjin war broke out in Northeast Asia. The war took place on the Korean peninsula. The war began with a Japanese invasion spearheaded by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The invasion included an assault on Joseon Korea with an attempt to march on Ming China. The series of military engagements are occasionally called, “the Pottery wars” due to the large number of fine Korean pottery items both taken back to Japan as well as the number of Korean prisoners of war who were potters taken back as well. The enslaved Korean potters were often tasked with creating tea ware and many of these techniques were passed on to Japanese craftsmen who developed a Japanese porcelain industry on the island. Many famous types of wares were developed in Japan including Imari ware, Nabeshima ware and Kakiemon which were patronized by powerful lords and noble families.
The European elite who were also tea drinkers coveted the fine “blue and white” porcelain pieces being shipped from Ming China. And like tea itself at the time, China had a monopoly on the item, because European potters could not reproduce porcelain in the way it was being crafted in Asia, hence our modern word today, “china” referring to fine porcelain ware items. Eventually, European potters did engineer a way to reproduce porcelain; in 1710 Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus developed a way to craft porcelain for the first time in Europe. This was in Dresden Germany at the Meissen factory, opening up the world to Meissen ware pottery. Other major places for porcelain development in Europe include Saint-Cloud, Chantilly and Vincennes in France. Doccia, Capodimonte, Vezzi, Cozzi and Le Nove in Italy. and in England, Chelsea, Bow, Sta. James, Bristol, Longton Hall, Royal Crown Derby, Royal Worcester, Lowestoft, Wedgwood and Spode. Today, in addition to many fine porcelain pieces of tea ware are various other quality ceramic tea pots and cups.
Many precious metals have been used to craft quality tea pots and other tea ware items. Stainless steel is a common material that is used, but silver, bronze and gold were all used, with silver tea pots being a popular item crafted in Boston during colonial times. In Moroccan tea culture, the stainless steel pot in particular is of special importance and in Russia, Central Asia, Turkey and parts of Eastern Europe, the steel samovar is also a key item in tea brewing.
Within the past 100 years or so, glass teapots have also come into vogue. Glass tea pots and tea ware are prized as vessels for brewing loose leaf and floral teas. The glass body of the pots allows drinkers to see how the leaves and blossoms unfurl, twist, and seemingly writhe in the hot water when brewed. Glass is also used for the tea cups in North Africa, Turkey, Russia and when the teas being served are cold brewed or iced tea like in the Southern United States.
Other items, utensils and accoutrements also accompany tea. From various handling tools to tea cozies and more. Many of them serve practical functions, but like the tea pot and tea cups, have taken on lives of their own, also serving aesthetic and sentimental roles in addition to practical functions.
The Way of Tea is an art form and sometimes even daily ritual and practice appreciated and observed all over the world. The first tea ceremonies were developed in China and many were developed in tandem with Chinese Buddhism. The tradition of synergizing Buddhism with tea and tea culture into formalized rituals was spread throughout East Asia, like Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other regions. The Japanese tea ceremony is one of the most well know examples of the Way of Tea in practice. But examples of what may constitute as tea ceremonies also exist outside of the East Asian cultural sphere. Other examples include the English practice of “Afternoon tea” and the Western practice of having formal tea parties, like in the Victorian era. In a similar manner to East Asian tea practices, British tea culture in particular has established and set etiquette, rules, rituals and was originally only practiced by the aristocracy like the royal family themselves, before spreading to other members of society. Many treatises and writings have been conducted on tea ceremonies throughout history, including details offered in The Classic of Tea, by the Tang dynasty Sage of Tea himself, Lu Yu. Today, tea ceremonies are performed and enjoyed all over the world, even outside of their respective countries of origin.
This Chinese tea ceremony is believed to have originated in southern China, in provinces such as Fujian and Guangdong. While there is some debate as to which province originated the practice first, it is The Chaoshan area in Guangdong province that often stakes the most claim. This tea ceremony is even sometimes referred to as the “Chaoshan Gongfu Cha” and the region is regarded as the capital of Gongfu. The name “GongFu” is usually translated as “making tea with skill”. The origins of this practice most likely go back to court rituals or the methods to prepare tea as practiced in monasteries and by scholar officials. The Gongfu tea ceremony is performed and enjoyed today all over the world, especially at tea houses that specialize in Chinese tea and tea culture. Outside of Mainland China and Hong Kong, Taiwan offers many great examples of the Gongfu tea ceremony in many tea houses across the island. As for the tea used in a Gongfu ceremony, typically pu’erh or black tea from a yixing pot or Oolong or green tea from gaiwan cups are the two main types of Gongfu teas, but other pots and tea ware with other varieties of tea can certainly be used too.
Tea and tea culture were introduced to Korea via China and like other countries in Asia that were introduced to tea via China’s cultural sphere of influence, it was deeply tied to Buddhism, as it still is today. Over time and development, the tea ceremony and the enjoyment of tea would be adapted to different social groups and in different contexts throughout society. There are Confucian tea rites and Buddhist tea rites. Confucian tea rites may be performed on special holidays or in veneration of past ancestors. The Buddhist tea rites may be done for similar reasons, with the addition of venerating the Buddha. Tea rites and tea ceremonies can be performed at traditional style tea houses, at Buddhist temples, cemeteries and graveyards for Confucian ancestor rites, at special events on holidays or for tourism or showcasing purposes, too. There are even modern institutions that grant proficient students certifications as tea masters who can perform tea ceremonies. Typically for tea ceremonies not performed by Buddhist monastics or clergy, traditional Korean folk clothing like hanbok is worn. The type of tea used depends on the season, same with the tea ware colors and styles used. Typically green tea is the tea of choice, but native Korean styles of black tea as well as herbal teas may also be served. The tea is almost always loose leaf rather than powdered tea like in Japanese tea ceremonies.
The Vietnamese tea ceremony is also influenced by Chinese tea culture, Buddhism and Confucianism but certainly with distinct Vietnamese cultural marks. The tea ceremony is performed at weddings. The ceremony is done to not only celebrate the happy bride and groom but also to venerate ancestors both living and deceased. The couple will take their wedding vows and exchange rings, and then they will serve green or chrysanthemum tea to the families present, starting with the eldest members. Gifts will be received by the couple and the ceremony ends with the lighting of dragon and phoenix candles, representing the union of the groom (dragon) and phoenix (bride).
The Japanese tea ceremony was first developed in Japan around the 12th century in Zen Buddhist monasteries. Tea had been in Japan for centuries before, but the use of loose leaf and then powdered matcha tea became more common in the 12th century. The ceremony was first practiced as a religious ritual by the monastic clergy before being performed and incorporated into the lifestyles and practices of the ruling warrior class. As the samurai went from just soldiers to the rulers of the nation, many adopting Zen Buddhism as their personal faiths, allowed the tea ceremony to not only gain patronage from powerful and influential warlords, but also adapt, change and evolve within Japanese society. Originally tea ceremonies practiced outside of Buddhist temples were lavish displays of wealth and opulence, but with tea masters like Sen no Rikyu, the ideal and philosophy changed to fit more with the Zen worldview. The various rules, rituals, etiquette, philosophy and aesthetic of the tea ceremony were developed under Rikyu and have continued into the modern era. Japanese tea ceremonies often take place in specially designed tea houses, which themselves are often surrounded by tea gardens, but other venues can host tea ceremonies as well. Seasons often dictate the specific types of calligraphy, tea ware, flower arrangements and incense to use and the tea of choice is almost always matcha, powdered green tea, though tea ceremonies using sencha do exist, but are not as common.
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