Assam Artifact

16 02 2010

This engraving from 1850 shows various stages of making tea in Assam – from preparing and irrigating the ground, gathering, to the stages of drying the tea leaves. In the two stages of drying moisture is completely removed from the leaves to prevent spoiling during transportation. Artist – Joseph Lionel Williams after Thomas Brown.


Tea Origin | Japan

13 02 2010

Tea came to Japan from China for the first time during the 6th century and initially it was imported in brick-form for aristocrats and the clergy. Tea was considered a luxury item in Japan at that time as exports from China were scarce. According to ancient recordings the first tea seeds were brought to Japan around the 9th century by Buddhist monks known as Saicho and Kukai who travelled and studied in China. From this moment on tea cultivation in Japan started developing and tea was gradually becoming more and more popular.

In 1191 Eisai (also known as Yosai), a Zen Buddhism priest, has brought tea seeds to Kyoto and given them to the priest Myoe Shonin to plant near a temple located there. Eisai is the author of the oldest tea book in Japanese, Kissa Yoyoki (Drinking Tea for Health), in which he proclaims tea to be  a ‘divine remedy and a supreme gift of heaven’. He taught people how to grind leaves into powder to produce a better tasting beverage and successfully introduced tea to the samurai class. Prior to that tea was mainly used as a stimulant to keep monks awake during meditation, but now it has found appeal among common people.

During the 13th and 14th century tea has become an art form and a vital element of passing time for people. As a result of the interest surrounding tea it became the subject of a game called Tocha, which originated during Sung Dynasty in China. People gathered to test their ability to distinguish between tea types and their origins. The game involved trying different kinds of tea and guessing where the tea come from – correct guesses were rewarded with prizes. The game was banned at the end of Japan’s Civil War, but later transformed into what we know as Chanoyu – the Japanese Tea Ceremony. At this time the tea steaming technique known to the Japanese since the 9th century was replaced by a roasting technique introduced by China.

In the 15th century tea became a significant part of culture in Japan and it has a solid place in history as one of the country’s symbols since. At this point Japan took a different path from China towards developing their own ‘tea ways‘. In the spirit of simplicity and beauty of everyday things (then valued aesthetics) a tea ceremony started taking shape, thanks to the influential figure of a tea scholar, Sen Rikyu. By the end of 16th century the ‘Way of Tea’ (Chanoyu) was established and its tradition was carried on into modern day. Chanoyu celebrates the beauty of every day objects, imperfection, asymmetry and naturalism. Along with the ceremony there was a need for a special kind of architecture that would suit its style, and so the building of tea houses originated.

In 1740 a new way of processing was developed by Soen Nagatani, which replaced the Chinese roasting method. It involved steam-drying tea leaves and unlike then available Matcha (ground tea) and Houjicha (roasted tea) it produced in a whole new type of tea. This method also referred to as the Uji method resulted in the creation of Sencha and most other teas now characteristic to Japan.

Due to the demand, tea couldn’t be produced only by hand in small quantities and during the 18th and 19th century machines were developed to boost the production process. The machines took over the tasks of drying, rolling and steaming tea leaves. With today’s automation and computerized machines tea quality can be retained at a high level.

Chinese teaware throughout Dynasties

19 03 2009

Tea was already prepared during Qin and Han Dynasties (229BC – 9) in China, but it could be prepared using any ceramics available at the time and there was no bowls or pots assigned exclusively to tea. Nevertheless, it is an important period in which the pottery production bloomed and gave ground to future advancements in this art. 

Tang Dynasty (618 – 907)

The Tang Dynasty provided great conditions for the development of tea culture, as tea drinking spread from the southern parts of China towards the north. This is also the first time proper tea-specific utensils for preparation and serving appear, described by Ju Yu in The Classic of Tea. The materials used for production of tea bowls play a greater role in deciding quality of the tea ware. The most characteristic and notable tea ware during this period was Yueh ware (also called Yueh Yao or Yue ware) which was first made in Yueh-chou, Chekiang Province during Han Dynasty. Although Yueh ware was produced already then, it reached its peak in the Tang Dynasty were it became the most used ceramics. These were celadon glazed porcelain-clay items, with a characteristic, greenish or olive color. Highest quality Yueh ware (known as mi-se meaning ‘secret color’) were selected as a tribute to the imperial family and valued greatly by connoiseurs and even poets who would praise the ceramics in their poetry. 

During mid-Tang dynasty there emerged another type of favorite tea ware – the ‘white porcelain’ Hsing ware (Hsing Yao) produced in Hsing Chou. According to The Classic of Tea this tea ware was held in higher regard by people then Yueh ware. As for style, low-sided bowls were most popular. This period also marked the beginnings of Yixing tea ware (Purple Clay ware), which only later was praised for its tea-improving qualities. Below you can see a Yueh ewer and bowl and Hsing cup and ewer.



Song dynasty (960 – 1279)

The Song Dynasty developed two major styles of tea ware – popular Qingbai porcelain (Yingqing ware) with bluish-white glaze and the complete opposite – black-glazed Jian ware. The Qingbai ware was produced in Jiangxi and most often decorated with incised lines. This porcelain was mostly appreciated among the middle and upper class and some foreign markets, not as much by the imperial court.

Later most of white tea ceramics were replaced by Jian ware. The reason Jian ware became so valued is because the rich black color would emphasize and bring out the color of then-popular powdered tea and create a nice contrast. The most desirable Jian tea bowl design was the ‘hare’s fur’ design, which occurred naturally during firing. Both of the styles were to encourage appreciation and awareness of the color of tea liquor. Apart from the practical functionality, tea ware became objects of desire in Song Dynasty. Below a Qingbai ewer and bowl and Jian bowl and ewer.



Yuan and Ming Dynasties (1368 – 1911)

These two dynasties focused on classical and simple designs. Shufu ware – white porcelain made during the Yuan dynasty at Jingdezhen. It was the first-known porcelain ordered by imperial officials and it sometimes bore the characters shufu meaning “central palace”. This ware was covered with a bluish opaque glaze, whereas the base would remain unglazed, sometimes with molded relief on the surface.

Inspired by Qingbai porcelain Meiping ware came into fashion during this period. Meiping porcelain also has a transparent glaze, before applying glaze however blue decoration and ornaments were painted with finely ground cobalt oxide mixed with water. This created a contrast between the white porcelain and vivid blue color of cobalt oxide making these wares very memorable. Since during the Yuan and Ming period powdered tea is replaced by loose leaf tea the white inside of these two porcelain styles is meant to emphasize the different shades of yellow and green in tea liquor.

The most important tea ware that reached the height of its fame in the Ming period is Yixing ware, especially Yixing tea pots which are still very popular today. This ware is often called Zisha clay ware or Purple clay ware because they are made of unglazed, purple sand clay from the city of Yixing. The reason why Yixing ware was claimed to be the best for tea drinking and preparation was because the clay contained minerals which affected and improved the taste, but also could preserve aroma and temperature of tea better. The tea’s oils are absorbed into the porous surface of the pot, thus enhancing and altering the  flavor depending on what tea type was brewed in the pot. Yixing pots are considered the first tea pots, which gave inspiration to creating different styles and using different materials later on. In Qing Dynasty Yixing production continued to flourish, with new shapes, styles and decorations. Below Meiping pot and bowl, two shufu bowls and Yixing tea ware.



All the words for ‘tea’

25 02 2009

Tea was first names by the Chinese, where they had one character that meant tea, but it could be pronouced in two ways in different regions of China. Today’s words for ‘tea’ derive from these two pronouciations in all other langages. In the eastern and sothern ports, as well as areas of Hing Kong the character was pronounced ‘te’, The South and North parts, using the Cantonese dilect would pronouce it ‘cha’. It is not exactly known why the pronaunciation and spelling of these words were modified as tea first came to the West in the 17th and 18th century. We can fing the following variations of the words ‘te’ and ‘cha’

  • Te – Catalan, Danish, Hebrew, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish, Welsh, Italian
  • Tea – English, Hungarian
  • Tee – Afrikaans, Finnish, German
  • The – French, Icelandic, Indonesian
  • Thee – Dutch
  • Teh – Javanese, Malay
  • Teo – Esperanto
  • Thea – Latin
  • Teja – Latvian
  • Tae – Irish
  • Herbata – Polish
  • Cha – Thai, Japanese, Portugese, Persian, Korean
  • Chai – Russian, Georgian, Ukrainian, Swahili, Urdu, Bulgarian, Hindi
  • Caj – Czech, Albanian, Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian, Slovene
  • Ceai – Romanian
  • Cay – Turkish
  • Tsai – Mongolian, Greek
  • Ja – Tibetan


Tea Origin | China

25 01 2009

China is often called the homeland of tea, however, even today we are not exactly sure how tea was first discovered. The legend of Emperor Shen Nung as the discoverer of tea dates back to 2737 BC, but scholars list a Chinese dictionary that dates back to 350 AD as a more reliable source. The Dictionary was written by Erh Ya and it is the first document which officially lists tea as a beverage prepared from boiled leaves. Back then tea was recognized as a herbal medicine and consumed as a remedy for illnesses.

Drinking tea for pleasure or on social occasions didn’t come until the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AC). During that dynasty tea drinking became a widespread practice in China and that is also when Lu Yu wrote his famous book Cha Jing (The Classic of Tea) introducing the art of tea drinking and tea making for the first time on paper. The book contains practical information about how and where tea should be grown, evaluated, prepared and enjoyed, but it also describes how the formal tea ceremony should be performed and what tools should be used. The amount of equipment needed caused tea to be a drink only for the wealthy also making the beverage a symbol of status in society. It was also only distributed in brick (compressed) form.

During the Sung Dynasty (690 – 1279 AC) tea farms were common and harvest followed more strict guidelines. The leaves were picked with fingernails only by young girls to the rhythm of drums and later sorted by their grades. The highest grade of tea was given to the emperor as tribute tea. Tea rooms and houses start emerging were social events take place and tea art of tea is enjoyed. This period is also an introduction to pots – tea that was earlier prepared in bowls is now steeped in pots. The passion for tea caused people to compete in discovering new varieties, which also lead to the process of grinding leaves to create powdered tea. Powdered tea required new tools for preparation such as a whisk, not mentioned in Lu Yu’s book, thus altering the ‘way of tea’ recognized so far. The new way of preparing powdered tea was supposed to bring harmony to the body and mind. A new type of tea appears – white tea – and it’s proclaimed the pinnacle of elegance by emperor Hui Zhong.

The tea ceremony of the Song Dynasty involving whisking of powdered tea was brought by Japanese monks to Japan, but completely disappeared in China during the 13th century, due to the sudden outburst of Mongolian tribes in China. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 – 1911 AD) processing leaves was refined to produce various loose leaf teas. Whereas in previous dynasties brick and powdered teas were common respectively, in 1391 the Ming court has issued a decree that only loose leaf tea can be a tribute tea. The tender tea buds where considered highest quality and were offered as gifts to the emperor. This form of tea has been developed and refined since and is today the most popular form. For many scholars tea tasting was a hobby and they wrote books and manuals containing their experiences with the beverage. During the Qing Dynasty tea is part of everyday life for the Chinese expressing and symbolizing relationships and order in society and generations.

In the 17th century the tea fermentation process is introduced and in late 18th and early 19th century mass production of tea takes place. At the end of the 19th century the tea industry in China suffers greatly as yield decreases and Western countries enforce a blockade for importing tea.

Tea History Timeline

17 01 2009

I wanted to publish this timeline of tea history I found here. It’s rather detailed, but it still needs and update with more recent events.


2737 BC – The second emperor of China, Shen Nung, discovers tea when tea leaves blow into his cup of hot water or so the story goes.

350 AD – A Chinese dictionary cites tea for the first time as Erh Ya.

400-600 AD – Demand for tea as a medicinal beverage rises in China and cultivation processes are developed. Many tea drinkers add onion, ginger, spices, or orange to their teas.

400 – Now called Kuang Ya in the Chinese dictionary, tea and its detailed infusion and preparation steps are defined.

479 – Turkish traders bargain for tea on the border of Mongolia.

593 – Buddhism and tea journey from China to Japan. Japanese priests studying in China carried tea seeds and leaves back.

618-907 – during Tang Dynasty tea becomes a popular drink in China for both its flavor and medicinal qualities.

648-749 – Japanese monk Gyoki plants the first tea bushes in 49 Buddhist temple gardens. Tea in Japan is rare and expensive, enjoyed mostly by high priests and the aristocracy.

725 – The Chinese give tea its own character – ch’a.

729 – The Japanese emperor serves powdered tea (named hiki-cha from the Chinese character) to Buddhist priests.

780 – First tea tax imposed in China. Chinese poet-scholar Lu Yu writes the first book of tea titled Ch’a Ching (The Classic of Tea) in timely alignment with the Taoist beliefs. The book covers detailed ancient Chinese tea cultivation and preparation techniques.

805 – Buddhism and tea devotion spreads further. The Japanese Buddhist saint and priest Saicho and monk Kobo Daishi bring tea seeds and cultivation and manufacturing tips back from China and plant gardens in the Japanese temples.

960-1280 Sung Dynasty – Chinese tea drinking is on the rise, as are elegant teahouses and teacups carefully crafted from porcelain and pottery. Drinking powdered and frothed tea or tea scented with flowers is widespread in China while earlier flavorings fall by the wayside. Zen Buddhism catches on in Japan via China and along come tea-drinking temple rituals.

1101-1125 – Chinese Emperor Hui Tsung becomes tea obsessed and writes about the best tea-whisking methods and holds tea-tasting tournaments in the court. While “tea minded,” so the story goes, he doesn’t notice the Mongol take over of his empire. Teahouses in garden settings pop up around China.

1191 – Japanese Buddhist abbot Eisai, who introduced Zen Buddhism to Japan, brings tea seeds from China and plants them around his Kyoto temple.

1206-1368 – Yuan Dynasty – During the Mongol take over of China, tea becomes a commonplace beverage buy never regains its high social status.

1211 – Japanese Buddhist abbot Eisai writes the first Japanese tea book Kitcha-Yojoki (Book of Tea Sanitation).

1280 – Mongolia takes over of China and since the Emperor of Mongol isn’t a “tea guy,” tea drinking dies down in the courts and among the aristocracy. The masses continue to indulge.

1368-1644  Ming Dynasty – At the fall of the Mongol take over, all teas — green, black, and oolong — is easily found in China. The process of steeping whole tea leaves in cups or teapots becomes popular.

1422-1502 – The Japanese tea ceremony emerges onto the scene. First created by a Zen priest named Murata Shuko, the ceremony is called Cha-no-yu, literally meaning “hot water tea” and celebrates the mundane aspects of everyday life. Tea’s status elevates to an art form and almost a religion.

1484 – Japan’s shogun Yoshimasa encourages tea ceremonies, painting, and drama.

1589 – Europeans learn about tea when a Venetian author credits the lengthy lives of Asians to their tea drinking.

1597 – Tea is mentioned for the first time in an English translation of Dutch navigator Jan Hugo van Linschooten’s travels, in which he refers to tea as chaa.

End of 1500s – Japanese tea master Sen-no Rikyu opens the first independent teahouse and evolves the tea ceremony into its current simple and aesthetic ritual. During this ceremony, one takes a garden path into a portico, enters upon hearing the host’s gong, washes in a special room, and then enters a small tearoom that holds a painting or flower arrangement to gaze upon. The tea master uses special utensils to whisk the intense powdered tea. Tea drinkers enjoy the art or flowers and then smell and slurp from a shared teabowl. Europeans hear about tea again when Portuguese priests spreading Roman Catholicism through China taste tea and write about its medicinal and taste benefits.

1610 – The Dutch bring back green tea from Japan (although some argue it was from China). Dutch East India Company market tea as an exotic medicinal drink, but it’s so expensive only the aristocracy can afford the tea and its serving pieces.

1618 – Chinese ambassadors present the Russian Czar Alexis with many chests of tea, which are refused as useless.

1635 – Tea catches on in the Dutch court. A German physician touts a warning about the dangers of tea drinking.

1637 – Wealthy Dutch merchants’ wives serve tea at parties.

1650-1700 – Tea parties become quite trendy among women across the social classes. Husbands cry family ruin, and religious reformers call for a ban.

1650 – The Dutch introduce several teas and tea traditions to New Amsterdam, which later becomes New York.

1657 – The first tea is sold as a health beverage in London, England at Garway’s Coffee House.

1661 – The debate over tea’s health benefits versus detriments heightens when a Dutch doctor praises its curative side while French and German doctors call out its harmful side.

1662 – When Charles II takes a tea-drinking bride (Catherine Braganza of Portugal), tea becomes so chic that alcohol consumption declines.

1664 – English East India Company brings the gift of tea to the British king and queen. The British take over New Amsterdam, name it New York, and a British tea tradition ensues.

1666 – Holland tea prices drop to $80-$100 per pound.

1669 – English East India Company monopolizes British tea imports after convincing British government to ban Dutch imports of tea.

1670 – The Massachusetts colony is known to drink black tea.

1680s – Tea with milk is mentioned in Madam de Sévigné’s letters. The Duchess of York introduces tea to Scotland.

1690 – The first tea is sold publicly in Massachusetts.

1697 – The first known Taiwanese cultivation and export of domestic tea takes place.

Late 1600s – Russia and China sign a treaty that brings the tea trade across Mongolia and Siberia.

18th Century – The controversy over tea continues in England and Scotland where opponents claim it’s overpriced, harmful to one’s health, and may even lead to moral decay.

1702-14 – During Queen Anne’s reign, tea drinking thrives in British coffeehouses.

1705 – Annual tea importation to England tops 800,000 pounds.

1706 – Thomas Twining serves up tea at Tom’s Coffee House in London.

1717 – Tom’s Coffee House evolves into the first teashop called the Golden Lyon. Both men and women patronize the shop.

1723 – British Prime Minister Robert Walpole reduces British import taxes on tea.

1735 – The Russian Empress extends tea as a regulated trade. In order to fill Russia’s tea demand, traders and three hundred camels travel 11,000 miles to and from China, which takes sixteen months. Russian tea-drinking customs emerge, which entail using tea concentrate, adding hot water, topping it with a lemon, and drinking it through a lump of sugar held between the teeth.

1765 – Tea easily ranks as the most popular beverage in the American colonies.

1767 – The Townshend Revenue Act passes British Parliament, imposing duty on tea and other goods imported into the British American colonies. A town meeting is held in Boston to protest the Townshend Revenue Act, which leads to an American boycott of British imports and a smuggling in of Dutch teas.

1770 – Parliament rescinds the Townshend Revenue Act, eliminating all import taxes except those on teas.

1773 – In protest of British tea taxes and in what becomes known as the Boston Tea Party, colonists disguised as Native Americans board East India Company ships and unload hundreds of chests of tea into the harbor. Such “tea parties” are repeated in Philadelphia, New York, Maine, North Carolina, and Maryland through 1774.

1774 – A furious British Parliament passes the Coercive Acts in response to the American “tea party” rebellions. King George III agrees to the Boston Port Bill, which closes the Boston Harbor until the East India Company is reimbursed for its tea.

1775 – After several British attempts to end the taxation protests, the American Revolution begins.

1778 – Before the indigenous Assam tea plants is identified, British naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, hired by the East India Company, suggests that India grow plant and cultivate imported Chinese tea. For 50 years, India is unsuccessful.

1784 – Parliament further reduces the British import taxes on tea in an effort to end the smuggling that accounts for the majority of the nation’s tea imports.

1785 – 11 million pounds of tea are brought into England.

1797 – English tea drinking hits a rate of 2 pounds per capita annually, a rate that increases by five times over the next 10 years.

1815-1831 – Samples of indigenous Indian tea plants are sent to an East India Company botanist who is slowly convinced that they are bona fide tea plants. 

1826 – English Quaker John Horniman introduces the first retail tea in sealed, lead-lined packages.

1830 – Congress reduces U.S. duties on coffee and tea and other imports.

1833 – By an act of the British Prime Minister Charles Grey (the second Earl Grey and the namesake of the famous tea), the East India Company loses its monopoly in the trade with China, mostly in tea.

1835 – The East India Company starts the first tea plantations in Assam, India.

1837 – The first American consul at Canton, Major Samuel Shaw, trades cargo for tea and silk, earning investors a great return on their capital and encouraging more Americans to trade with China.

1838 – The first tea from Indian soil and imported Chinese tea plants is sold. A small amount is sent to England and quickly purchased due to its uniqueness.

1840s – American clipper ships speed up tea transports to America and Europe.

1840s and 50s – The first tea plants, imports from China and India, are cultivated on a trial basis in Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

1840 – Anna the Duchess of Bedford introduces afternoon tea, which becomes a lasting English ritual.

1849 – Parliament ends the Britain’s Navigation Acts, and U.S. clipper ships are allowed to transport China tea to British ports. Tea wholesaler Henry Charles Harrod takes over a London grocery store and grows it into one of the world’s largest department stores.

1850 – Londoners get their first peak at a U.S. clipper ship when one arrives from Hong Kong full of China tea. U.S. clipper ships soon desert China trade for the more profitable work of taking gold seekers to California.

1856 – Tea is planted in and about Darjeeling, India.

1859 – Local New York merchant George Huntington Hartford and his employer George P. Gilman give the A&P retail chain its start as the Great American Tea Company store. Hartford and Gilman buy whole clipper shipments from the New York harbor and sell the tea 1/3 cheaper than other merchants.

1866 – Over 90 percent of Britain’s tea is still imported from China.

1869 – The Suez Canal opens, shortening the trip to China and making steamships more economical. In a marketing effort to capitalize on the transcontinental rail link fervor, the Great American Tea Company is renamed the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. A plant fungus ruins the coffee crop in Ceylon and spreads throughout the Orient and Pacific, giving a hefty boost to tea drinking.

1870 – Twinings of England begins to blend tea for uniformity.

1872 – The Adulteration of Food, Drink, and Drugs Act deems the sale of adulterated drugs or other unlabeled mixtures with foreign additives that increase weight as punishable offenses.

1875 – A new British Sale of Food and Drugs Law calls adulteration hazardous to personal health and increases its legal consequences to a heavy fine or imprisonment.

1876 – Thomas Johnstone Lipton opens his first shop in Glasgow, using American merchandising methods he learned working in the grocery section of a New York department store.

1890 – Thomas Lipton buys tea estates in Ceylon, in order to sell tea at a reasonable price at his growing chain of 300 grocery stores.

Late 1800s – Assam tea plants take over imported Chinese plants in India and its tea market booms. Ceylon’s successful coffee market turns into a successful tea market.

1904 – Englishman Richard Blechynden creates iced tea during a heat wave at the St Louis World Fair.

1904 – Green tea and Formosan (Taiwanese) tea outsells black tea by five times in the U.S.

1908 – New York tea importer Thomas Sullivan inadvertently invents tea bags when he sends tea to clients in small silk bags, and they mistakenly steep the bags whole.

1909 – Thomas Lipton begins blending and packaging his tea in New York.

1910 – Sumatra, Indonesia becomes a cultivator and exporter of tea followed by Kenya and parts of Africa.

The legend of how tea culture originated

10 09 2008

There is no documented source that tells you exactly when, where and how tea was discovered. The first historical record that mentions tea dates back 2000 years, but according to one of the legends people were already drinking tea 5000 years ago.

The Chinese mythology says that tea was first discovered by the Chinese emperor and herbalist Shen Nung 2737 B.C. The emperor ordered his servants to always boil his drinking water to purify it (he was the one who decided that the Chinese should boil their water in order to raise the level of hygiene). Some leaves were blown by the wind into the water pot and turned the water into an amber color. Intrigued by this change of color he tried the infusion as an experiment. It tasted refreshing and the custom of drinking tea was spread since.