Chinese Loose Leaf Tea Story

“Its liquor is like the sweetest dew of Haven”,

Lu Yu

The extensive history, contained in a single cup of loose leaf tea, is an exciting story that belies the gentle and relaxing nature of this mild beverage. Millions of people around the planet begin and end their day with a fresh cup of hot green tea or black tea.

Tea’s origin began in China, the birthplace of the first cultivated tea gardens along Yunnan’s southern border. Awareness of tea spread first from Yunnan, throughout China, then to the rest of Asia, and finally to the West.

By the time of the Shang Dynasty (1766-1050 BC), green tea was being consumed in Yunnan Province for its medical properties. For any given ailment, tea leaves were boiled with a host of other forest plants, seeds, barks, and leaves to concoct healing herbal remedies.

As the popularity of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism spread throughout China, so did an awareness of life-enhancing tea. Each of these religious embraced loose leaf teas for its healthful virtues and powers of rejuvenation

The Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) brought a sophistication to tea drinking. This was a time of high art and culture. Tea drinking became an attractive, relaxing pursuit, and it was the Tang who first enjoyed formal tea gatherings that were designed to find delight in this delight beverage. Tea was consumed differently by various members of the social classes during that time. Many tea drinkers favored adding onion, ginger, orange peel, cloves, and peppermint to their tea. Mixing salt into the tea became popular choice in the western provinces. Ladies of the court sipped tea that was mixed with the delicate extracts of fruits and flowers.

During Ming dynasty (1369-1644)  the secrets of oxidation ( the process by which fresh tea leaf is turn into black tea) were discovered. They recognized the importance of the discovery and the potential value that oxidation had for improving the condition of tea that would be traveling long distances over land or sea. Now, brick tea exported to the border regions of Tibet and Mongolia could be send as black tea, which would allow the tea to arrive at its final destination in better shape. Over time the Chinese refined and perfected the production of black tea, and for many years these teas were produced in the Wuyi mountains of northern Fujian Province.

The first porcelain teapots also appeared in China under Ming rule. Tea was still costly, so these teapots were intentionally made small. This allowed the loose tea leaves in the teapot to be reinforced several times by successively adding more water, a method of tea brewing still followed in China for green and oolong tea. Small Zisha clay teapots also become the favorites of the tea literati (see “Artistic Yixing Teapots). Many styles of teaware were created, which was subject to change with every successive emperor, who had his own idea of fashion, glaze color, style, and whether to use incised or applied designs.

Loose leaf tea was then and now regarded as a healthful tonic that would impart peace, harmony, and happiness. Spiritually, tea was believed to be an “elixir of immortality”, an embroidered ideal that suggested its uplifting nature.