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Tea Drinking in Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-907)

The Tang dynasty was a prime time during the development of the Chinese feudal society, which provided excellent social conditions for the promotion and popularization of tea and tea drinking custom. In fact, with the economic and cultural prosperity of the Tang dynasty, tea drinking and tasting rapidly became an indispensable habit in the daily life of all walks of people, and it began to spread to the foreign countries as a kind of culture as well.

a scene of people of tang dynasty boiling tea
A masterpiece by chinese ancient famous painter,Liben Yan,showing a scene of people of Tang Dynasty boiling tea.

1) Nobleness of Tribute Tea

Tea drinking in the palace started from the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern dynasties, and till the Tang dynasty, the demands of tea in the palace gradually increased, thus the kinds of tea that need to pay tribute to the court also increased. According to historical records, the tribute teas then included Huzhou Zisun Tea and Mengding Tea of Mengshan Mountain in Sichuan province. In order to strengthen the supervision of tribute tea processing, the Tang dynasty set up "Gongcha-yuan" (an organization in charge of tribute tea) and sheriffs in year 770 to supervise the production of tribute tea. This was an unprecedented event.

The emperor also demanded that by the day of Lichun (Spring Begins), the local officials should go into the mountains to supervise the tea collection and preparation and then transport the tea to the capital, all of which should be completed before the day of Guyun  (Grain Rain). The first cargo of tribute tea must arrive at capital Chang'an 10 days before the Qingming (Pure Brightness) Festival to be used as sacrificial offerings, which fully illustrated the importance of tea in the palace.

  Ancient utensils used to cook tea
  Ancient utensils used to cook tea in Tang dynasty unearthed in Famen temple, Shangxi province

2) Glory of Tea Grant

Besides enjoying the tribute tea themselves, the emperors also granted tea to the beloved ministers and scholar-officials. For them, being able to get the tribute tea granted by the emperor meant a supreme glory on the one hand and also enabled them to taste the precious and rare tea on the other hand. According to the historical records, tea drinking was very popular among the upper class. Bai Juyi, who used to be the Minister of Justice, likened drinking Mengshan Tea to listening to Lushui Music in one of these poems, which demonstrated his graceful enjoyment to both the art and the tea. Even the much lower official Meng Xiao had indicated in his poems the willingness to beg for good tea from another people for many times. Under this circumstance, presenting tea as gifts was very prevalent in the Tang society, from which also derived a marvel in Tang poem- the tea poems.

3) Tea Drinking Among Monks and the Common People

According to the What Feng Saw and Heard written by Feng Yan, in the prime time of the Tang dynasty, the prevalent and greatly esteemed Chan Buddhism allowed the monks to drink tea. The monks, under the name of cultivating their moral character and developing their temperament, made drinking tea an indispensable habit in their life in the temples. Meanwhile, since Buddhism was extremely prevalent in the Tang dynasty and the secular society held high esteem to the Buddhism, many people followed the monks to drink tea, which accelerated the spread and popularization of tea drinking among the people, and the tea house appeared consequently.

In the Tang dynasty, tea, just like rice and salt, also became an important commodity in people's social life, which showed that the tea drinking at that time was not only confined to the upper class, but also quite popular among the people.

  the classic of tea cha jing
  The Classic of Tea
Cha Jing 茶經

4) Tea Culture Began to Spread Abroad

In the Tang dynasty, Japan used to send many people to study in China, thus the tea drinking prevalent in the Tang society influenced them a lot. Most of the Japanese who visited China at that time learned to drink tea in China and later brought this habit back to Japan. According to historical record, in 805 a dignitary who returned from China brought tea seeds back to Japan and sowed them beside Hie Jinja Shrines, which later developed into the most ancient tea garden in Japan.

According to some other historical records, after the Tang diet style featuring tea drinking entered Japan, it greatly influenced the Japan diet. At that time, tea was a kind of noble and precious thing in Japan, only the royal family, noble people and high-ranking monks could drink tea, and most of them considered drinking Chinese tea while creating Chinese poems as the most elegant recreation. Thus we could infer that the spread of tea abroad was not taken as a kind of new exotic trend or simple material product, but was accepted, to a large extent, as a kind of culture and elegant custom with much cultural connotation. This must be the beginning of the Chinese tea culture spreading to the whole world.

In a word, in the stable and abundant Tang society, tea entered the everyday life of all classes of people in a more popular and profound way. Tea drinking became a kind of habit or hobby of the whole society; meanwhile it began to spread abroad as a kind culture and elegant convention. In addition, during the Tang dynasty there was born the famous Chinese "Tea Sage"- Lu Yu, who wrote the first book that specially researched tea and tea culture in the world history- the Tea Classics.


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Last Update: 2016.9
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