Posted in Kafevend Blog
Tea forms a significant part of our culture, and an English stereotype wouldn't be complete without a cup of the stuff being enjoyed by someone suitably posh. Tea has only been a part of our island's history for a little under four centuries however, unlike the several millenia it has spent intertwined in the culture of the Chinese.
As we mentioned a few weeks ago, the general consensus is that tea first came from an area where the borders of modern day Burma, China, India and Tibet meet. Quite how it was first encountered is unknown, though there are several legends that name the ancient Chinese Emperor Shennong, who lived almost 5,000 years ago, as tea's discoverer. At the core of the Shennong stories we learn that some tea leaves fell into a cup of boiling water that was being prepared for him and he noticed both the delicious taste and the medicinal properties emanating from the leaves.
There is more than a tang of the apocryphal about the legend, and of course neither does it consider the likelihood of ordinary people living in the area and enjoying tea before the Emperor came along. One of the earliest and more reputable documented accounts of the consumption of tea comes from a medical treatise from the 3rd century C.E., which details both its use at the time and its history in the Zhou Dynasty, which lasted from around 1,000 to 250 B.C.E.
Whilst the medicinal properties and the taste of tea were ample reasons enough for the Chinese to enjoy the drink, the highly ritualised tea ceremonies that developed over the years are one of the defining features of Chinese tea culture. In many cases, it was through the medium of the tea ceremony that tea spread through Asia.
Japanese envoys visited China in the 6th century in order to learn more about the country's cultural practices, and brought back tea and the ritualised ceremonies with them. Under the rule of the Japanese Emperor Saga in the early 9th century, tea production was accelerated and its use adopted by the ruling elite. The Japanese, using the Chinese methods as a base, developed their own tea ceremonies. We have examined them in depth before on this blog, so please feel free to go back and find out more about the Japanese Way of Tea.
Along with Japan, Korea's history mentions their awareness of tea back in the 6th century in terms of a ritual to honour the spirit of King Suro. Korea has developed its own set of tea ceremonies which continue to be performed to this day, along with their Chinese and Japanese counterparts. In the past, Korean tea ceremonies saw a lot of use in the veneration of spirits; for example, in Buddhist temples offerings of tea were made to the spirits of revered monks.
Whilst the British way of making tea is far less elaborate than the practices still followed in the East, we do still have our own version. The teapot (and the biscuit tin) is often bought out when we have visits from friends and family and though simple, it is in its own way a form of tea ceremony.