Chinese Tea Culture

Chinese tea culture (茶文化, Chá Wén Huà) is a cultural feature formed in tea drinking activities.

Chinese tea has a history of more than 4,700 years since it was first discovered and used by Chinese Emperor Shen Nong in 2737 BC. With the development of tea, tea culture had also emerged in ancient times.

Chinese tea culture contains many parts:

  • Tea Ceremony (茶道, Chá Dào)
  • Tea Art (茶艺, Chá Yì)
  • Tea Virtue (茶德, Chá Dé)
  • Tea Spirit (茶精神, Chá Jīng Shén)
  • Tea Couplets (茶联, Chá Lián)
  • Tea Book (茶书, Chá Shū)
  • Tea Set (茶具, Chá Jù)
  • Tea Poem (茶诗, Chá Shī)
  • Tea Painting (茶画, Chá Huà)
  • Tea Study (茶学, Chá Xué)
  • Tea Story (茶故事, Chá Gù Shì)

More important parts are tea ceremony, tea art, and tea virtue. Among these three parts, the most important and meaningful part is the tea ceremony, which is the core of Chinese tea culture. In addition, the tea ceremony requires tea art to reflect and express.

Table of Contents

History of Chinese Tea Culture

According to Chinese historical records, Chinese tea culture began to appear in the Jin Dynasty (266-420). Until today, the development and evolution of Chinese tea culture have experienced five important periods.

  • Appear in the Jin Dynasty (266-420).
  • Form from the Sui Dynasty (581-618) to the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
  • Develop in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
  • Develop continually in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1636-1912).
  • Flourish in contemporary China.

Appear in the Jin Dynasty

In the Jin Dynasty, with the rise of tea drinking by literati, some poems and songs related to tea were gradually coming out. Tea is not only a popular form of diet but also began to be integrated into cultural communities.

Later, with the rise of Buddhism and Taoism, drinking tea was also associated with them.

In the Taoist view, drinking tea is a good way to reduce the turbidity of the body and improve the quality of life. In the Buddhist view, tea is a necessary thing for meditation.

Although the completed tea-drinking ceremony and the ideological principle of tea had not yet been formed at this time, the Chinese tea culture had begun to take shape.

Form from the Sui Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty

In the Sui Dynasty, tea was widely enjoyed by the general public and generally considered it is beneficial to health.

In AD 780, Lu Yu, a famous tea master in the Tang Dynasty, respected as the Sage of Tea, composed a monumental book <The Classic of Tea>, which summarized the art of tea-drinking, integrated Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism into tea-drinking, and pioneered the spirit of the Chinese tea ceremony.

Develop in the Song Dynasty

In the Song Dynasty, the tea industry had developed greatly, which promoted the development of tea culture. Tea etiquette had become a ritual system, and tea-granting had become an important means for the emperor to please ministers and generals.

As for ordinary people, the tea culture is more active. If some people will migrate, the neighbors will offer tea; if people have guests at home, they should serve tea; if someone marries, he should share and drink a cup of tea with his wife.

Develop continually in the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty

At this time, various tea-producing techniques had emerged, such as Kill-green, Tossing, and Withering, etc. Besides, many literati in the Ming Dynasty created some masterpieces of tea painting.

By the time of the Qing Dynasty, exporting tea has become a formal industry. And countless tea books, tea paintings, and tea poems were created as well.

Flourish in Contemporary China

  • In 1982, The House of Tea, the first social group, was established to promote tea culture in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province.
  • In 1983, The Tea Culture of Lu Yu Research Society was established in Hubei Province.
  • In 1993, The China International Tea Culture Research Association was founded in Huzhou, a city in Zhejiang Province.
  • In 1998, The China International Tea Culture Exchange Museum was built.

Subsequently, many activities and festivities related to tea were held all over China, and it is the same as today.

Tea Ceremony

Tea ceremony also called Cha Dao in Chinese is the core of Chinese tea culture.

Tea ceremony is the way to appreciate the beauty of tea. It is also regarded as a living art of making tea and enjoying tea, a life etiquette with tea as a medium, and a lifestyle of self-cultivation with tea.

Tea ceremony is a very useful ritual to promote friendship, learn etiquette, appreciate traditional virtues through making tea, enjoying tea, smelling tea, and drinking tea, which can help to cultivate sentiment and remove distracting thoughts. All of those are called tea ceremony.

The tea ceremony absorbs the essence of Confucianism and Taoism, providing the esthetic idea of advocating nature, simplicity, and truth. The people who love tea are full of love for nature and have a strong desire to return to nature and get close to nature.

Moreover, under the influence of Taoism, the tea ceremony pays special attention to health care and advocates mutual communication between people and nature.

In conclusion, the tea ceremony is just the spiritual embodiment of tea.

Tea Art

Compared with the invisible tea ceremony, tea art is tangible. As mentioned above, the expression of tea ceremony is through making tea, enjoying tea, etc. These actions are included in tea art.

Strictly speaking, tea art includes choosing tea, choosing water, making tea, tea set, and choosing an appropriate environment for drinking tea.

Choosing tea: to learn tea art, the first step is mastering the classification, the characteristics, even the processing of the tea, and the knowledge of identification and storage of the tea.

Choosing water: tea must come from the water. The quality, amount, and temperature of the water are very important factors affecting the fragrance and taste of the tea.

Making tea: the time and frequency of making tea are very different, which depend on the type of tea, the temperature of the water, and the amount of the tea leaves.

Tea set: the material of the tea set will affect the fragrance and taste of the tea because different tea sets have different thermal conductivity. Besides, the shape and the appearance of the tea set are also important to express tea art.

Choosing environment: different environments for enjoying tea will create different themes and artistic conception. The literati pursue quietness and elegance; the nobles pursue luxury and nobility.

Tea art is also a kind of stage art, and the stage performance of tea art is also a very important medium to show tea art.

In conclusion, tea art is a visible form of expression of the tea ceremony.

Tea Virtue

Tea virtue refers to the virtue of tea itself. Based on a famous book <A hundred Couplets of Tea>, tea virtue includes eight virtues:

  • Health: tea can improve health and prolong life.
  • Happiness: tea can create happiness.
  • Sweet: tea is like nectar, and makes life sweet.
  • Fragrance: the fragrance of tea overflows from itself.
  • Harmony: tea contains the spirit of harmony.
  • Tranquility: tea makes the mental state tranquil.
  • Respect: serving tea to your guests means you respect them.
  • Beauty: tea is a natural beauty, which can offer aesthetic enjoyment.