China is famous for its tea, its tea making ceremonies and traditions associated with it. Chinese tea making is an art and the world famous ceremonies take you through a wholesome and rich experience of slowly blending the tea leaves in water and savouring the rich aromas which are considered to be therapeutic in themselves.
Legend has it that the Emperor Shen Long from China discovered tea in 2737 BC while boiling water under the cooling shade of a tree. A light breeze blew making a few leaves fall into his pot of boiling water, creating a delicate perfume and liquor. Upon taking the first sip of the unknowingly brewed liquid, he found it to be warm, soothing and delicious and hence the tea was born.
Until the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), tea was largely consumed for medicinal purposes. But, the Tang Dynasty brought with it winds of change. Tea became more than just medicine for the body, it became medicine for the soul. It became an inspiration for painters, potters and poets. And with their works of art, a universe of sophistication was built around the humble tea cup.
Tea making and drinking was elevated to an art form when Luyu (723-804 AD) wrote a treatise called “Chajing” or “Traditions of Tea.” Since then, China has been privy to various cultures celebrating tea in various ways. From a simple bowl of hot water on which fresh leaves float (grandpa-style) to a formal Gongfu ceremony, which literally means “the art of making tea skilfully”.
An important way in which the Chinese differ from the rest of the world is that the Chinese focus on the whole, unbroken leaf as a measure of quality. Tea in China is not just a beverage which is consumed as a staple as one would notice in most parts of the world. Tea in China is offered as a sign of respect to the elders, in happiness and in apology. Tea making ceremonies are traditional holiday activity. It is an important part of life, business transactions and in fact, of the Chinese economy.