Its liquor is like the sweetest dew from Heaven.
The origin of tea is traced to Southwestern China. China is known to be the first country to use tea leaves and is the birthplace of tea. There, various tea plants were first cultivated over 2,000 years ago. Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan in Southwestern China, were the regions of origin.
Although Lu Yu is regarded by many current day tea masters as “the God of tea”, he is not the first person to discover it. Specifically, Lu Yu was known for his detailed account of tea written in his book The Classic of Tea or Cha Jing, and for perfecting the craft. The Cha Jing is known to be the first written account on tea culture in the world.
Lu Yu lived 733-804 AD in China’s Tang Dynasty. According to records, Lu Yu was abandoned as a baby at a temple and was adopted by a monk.
This monk was famous for his knowledge and love for tea. He enlightened Lu Yu on how tea is grown, picked, and made. From a young age Lu Yu was already instilled with a deep love and appreciation for tea. With time, Lu Yu gradually became an expert in tea, poetry, and calligraphy.
However Lu Yu did not wish to pursue becoming a monk. Instead, he became a highly educated scholar and traveled around China meeting many people and most importantly, learning all there is about the art of tea. Despite his high status, he was indifferent to fame and enjoyed a humble and peaceful lifestyle, often times found sharing a good brew with some friends.
"For Lu Yu, tea symbolized the harmony and mysterious unity of the universe."
We should be aware that the tea drunk during Lu Yu’s time was not what we know tea to be today. It was an unoxidized tea steamed and compressed into cakes. With tea that was made from tender leaves being crushed immediately after steaming.
Below is Lu Yu’s account on making tea (a powdered tea drank during those times):
At “second boil” (when the bubbles start slowly streaming up) one should take a scoop of the boiling water for later use and using a pair of bamboo tongs to stir the water, creating a swirl. Into the swirl one adds the prepared tea powder using a scoop. Soon after the water will be ferociously boiling. At this point we add the scoop of water previously removed. This way the water will not over-boil.
The froth created by the tea using this brewing method is a key to enjoying the tea. This method is still used in Japanese tea ceremonies for enjoying matcha.
Although these original methods of tea preparation that are described in the Cha Jing are currently outdated, they are still being used by certain ethnic minorities in China.
Lu Yu would use more than one word to describe what we all know as tea. Teas full of umami sweetness would be called “jia”. Bitter teas would be called "mao".
And the word “cha”, which later on developed to mean tea in various countries all across the world, would only be used to describe a somewhat astringent liquor with an umami sweetness that keeps coming back.
“Hui gan” would be used to refer to the highest level of umami sweetness within a brew. Teas with “hui gan” are the highest level of tea and are very sought after. Nowadays it is indeed that reoccurring umami that we prize many of our teas for.
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