L. Golender, Meditation, 2003
Based on the medical book 'Pen Tsao', attributed to Shen Nung, there are references which credit tea with being 'good for tumors or abscesses that come about the head, or for ailments of the bladder. It dissipates heat caused by the phlegm, or inflammation of the chest. It quenches thirst. It lessens the desire for sleep. It gladdens and cheers the heart'.
Shen Nong is also credited for developing the theory of "opposing natural forces" which would later play an important part in Taoist philosophy.
Almost 3,000 years later, Confucius was the first to really apply Shen Nong's theory of opposing forces. Confucius declared that it was man's responsibility to live a moral and just life, that by following a code of ethics and behavior, man could influence the opposing poles of good and evil that maintain the order of the universe. Gradually, the theory was expanded to describing everything in the universe as opposite poles - Yin and Yang - hot and cold, black and white, passive and aggressive and so on.
Lao Ziu translated Confucius' views of universal order into his own philosophy. Lao Ziu believed that man shouldn't interfere with fate, that the universe should be allowed to follow its destined the path (Tao). Lao Ziu's theories became hugely popular, gaining many followers, and gathering momentum until the religion called now known as Taoism was born. Despite Lao Ziu's basic theory of noninterference and allowing the natural order of events to take place, Taoists composed guidelines or a path (Tao), which when followed, eventually led to the "Great Tao" or the Absolute External.
Taoism became more than a religion, it became a blueprint of life. Taoists believed that man was a universe unto himself. Not only did a disciple of Taoism learn a moral code to follow to reach universal harmony but he also learned what foods to eat and what herbs to take to reach an internal harmony. Following the principles of Yin and Yang, hot and cold, Taoists began categorizing foods by their properties. They recommended "cold" foods such as fruit, vegetables, crab and fish to reduce heat in the body and "hot" foods such as fatty meats, eggs, spicy and fried foods to increase heat and vitality in the body. They soaked medicinal plants and herbs in alcohol, creating Yin and Yang, hot and cold, balancing tonics. These early tonics are the roots from which evolved the pills, creams and potions that comprise the pharmacopoeia of traditional Chinese herbal medicine today.
In 800 A.D. Lu Yu wrote the first definitive book on tea, the Ch'a Ching (The Holy Scripture of Tea). Drawing from his vast memory of observed events and places, he codified the various methods of tea cultivation and preparation in ancient China. The pantheistic symbolism of the time was urging one to mirror the Universal in the Particular. Lu Yu, a poet, saw the same harmony and order which reigned through all things in the Tea-service.
The Ch'a Ching itself elevates the preparation and drinking of tea to near-religious status. Like a religious ceremony, there is a set ritual, using particular implements which are endowed with individual significance, and there are guidelines on the appropriate state of mind for the tea drinker, and the atmosphere in which tea should be drunk. This similarity to religious ritual is no coincidence; the Taoist faith was central to culture in eighth century China, and with it the belief that every detail of life was an act of living that was worthy of celebration, and that one should attempt to find beauty everywhere in the world. Thus the emphasis on tranquility and harmony in the preparation and drinking of tea was recognition of its part in the masterpiece of life.
An abridged version of the Ch'a Ching's description of the proper tea making process is as follows: After being plucked on a sunny day, the tea leaves must be baked over an even fire, with no wind. After baking they should be placed in a paper bag to cool. When completely cold the leaves can be ground. Then spring water should be heated to just under the boiling point and a pinch of salt added. Then bring it to a second boil, and stir only the middle portion of the liquid. Steep the ground tea leaves in this water in each cup individually and drink before it cools. The first and second cups taste the best, and more than four or five cups should not be consumed. During this time tea was baked in a cake form, and to prepare a cup of tea, a bit was shaved from the edge into boiling water to which salt had been added. Several different preparations were used to make tea, including the addition of onion, ginger, orange, or peppermint. Milk and sugar were never added to tea, although both were available and used in other foods. Different preparations of teas held different medicinal purposes, although by this time tea was primarily thought of as a beverage in spite of its believed healing properties. The tea was typically drunk from bowls or cups that had been glazed blue on the inside, which was thought to bring out the greenness of the tea. By 850 people were also beginning to prepare tea in the form of detached leaves, not compressed into bricks ( Pu-er or Tuocha teas).
Lu Yu's work clearly showed the Zen Buddhist philosophy to which he was exposed as a child. Lu Yu was apparently brought up and educated in a temple or monastery where tea was grown and manufactured. Chinese sources give differing accounts of his life but most agree that he was abandoned as an infant and that a Ch'an(Zen) priest named Zhiji found him near the banks of a lake and raised him at a temple. Even at his chores, the child proved precocious. He passed the time as a cowherd practicing his writing on the backs of the cows with a bamboo stick. His boyhood must have included many hours working in tea fields and manufactories also, for he filled the Ch'a Ching with precise observations and practical directions for cultivating, plucking, and processing tea leaf.
As an adolescent, Lu Yu seems to have rebelled against the pieties and practices of his received religion. He fled the monastery and made his living first as a circus comic and clown, then as a government official of some sort before turning to a life of scholarship and tea. By the time Lu Yu completed the first book on tea, five years in the writing, he had barely entered middle age.
The Ch'a Ching was no mere disquisition on tea-producing regions, tea's efficacy as a medicine, the ways to discriminate between tea varieties, or their processing and preparation. Although he covered such matters masterfully, Lu Yu also managed to convey something of the contemplative life he experienced because of partaking of tea and the transformed world to which that life opened his eyes. He likens tea to the elixir of the immortals in flavor. "The effect of tea is cooling and as a beverage it is most suitable. It is especially fitting for persons of self-restraint and inner worth," he wrote. From start to finish, his wonderfully poetic classical Chinese constantly implies that there was a spiritual dimension to making tea – not that he made any such claim directly.
Lu Yu's work made him not only a celebrity but also a god in the eyes of the tea-drinking public. People in the tea business made offerings to porcelain statues of Lu Yu, praying that the tea crop be large and profitable. When business was bad, the same people would scald the unoffending image with a kettleful of boiling water. The author was befriended by the emperor Taisong (ruled 763—779) and was revered by the intelligentsia, as numerous poems and stories about him demonstrate.
The tea began to be not a poetical pastime, but one of the methods of self-realisation. Tea rooms and houses were built in order to enjoy tea at a social and spiritual level. Tea houses sprung up in the towns and cities. Men would gather there to gossip, and to take part in tea contests, where they would engage in "blind taste tests" of different kinds and qualities of leaves and water. There were even competitions among tea connoisseurs who were judged on the way they conducted their ceremony and on the quality of the tea leaves, water, and brewed tea. They could also listen to music there, and admire works of art. For the aristocrats there were small private pavilions, some of them quite splendid. Within the moveable rice paper walls spaces were tastefully furnished and perfumed with rare incense and flowers, enlivened by music, story tellers, or games, all conspiring to provide a poetic mood suitable for the tasting of tea. One could also have tea served in the public baths, hotels, stores, etc., and vendors walked the streets offering infusions to those who desired them. The art of making ceramic tea equipment was developed a great deal during this period. Tea bowls became deeper and wider to aid in the whipping. Since the prepared tea had a very light green hue, black and deep blue glazes were used on the bowls to enhance the tea color. The most famous style of these bowls was a black bowl with lines running down the bowl called rabbits fur. royal philosophy dominated this period and tea preparation became less complicated and more peaceful. The Japanese art of tea has its roots from this era.
During the 8th century, trade spread the tea habit to the Mongols, Tartars, and Tibetan nomads. These peoples had existed entirely on meat and milk products, so tea quickly became an essential part of their diet, helping them fight diseases occasioned by the lack of fruits and vegetables. Horses and furs were traded to the Chinese in exchange for tea leaves. The journey by caravan was long and hard, lasting months, so the tea was dried, crushed, and formed into bricks before being placed on the backs of yaks for transport. Tea was prepared by grating some powder off the brick and putting it to boil with salt and yak butter, then churning it forcefully in order to produce a most invigorating drink, into which one dunked nuggets made from toasted barley.
The sudden outburst of the Mongol tribes in the thirteenth century resulted in the devastation, destroyed all the fruits of the Song culture. Manners and customs changed to leave no vestige of the former times. The conquerors established new dynasty - Yuan( See the map). The powdered tea is entirely forgotten.
Only green or semifermented tea was consumed. The black tea produced in China was entirely for export. Some say that the Western taste for black tea is the result of an error. The story goes that Europeans received a cargo of tea that had fermented because of the long boat crossing. The recipients believed that they were emulating the Chinese, and developed a taste for this kind of tea.