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The Cultural Confusion About Tea

In plain English tea is an infusion made by brewing dried loose leaves or buds of Cha, in Chinese and Camellia Sinensis in Latin, in hot water for several minutes, then served as a drink. In reality, however, things are not always so plain. We are familiar with the English Tea of an elegant lifestyle, the Japanese Tea ceremony of a ritualistic practice, American Lipton bagged tea of daily convenience, herbal blended tea of exotic flavoring, and now green tea and tea extracts to fight cancer or lose weight.

In spite of the fact that we convince ourselves we are in a time of rapid information exchange and knowledge expansion, we essentially live in a world of simulacra—as Jean Baudrillard, one of the top post-Modernist thinkers advises us—a world of signs and ideas that have detached from the substances they supposedly represent. As result of the overwhelming power of advertising, television, and the media in general, we no longer inhabit a world of real things, the signs and ideas that refer to them have replaced reality.

Our understanding of tea and tea drinking, like many other things, have inevitably been encoded by “signs and ideas” to fit many different purposes. Consequently, the idea of tea and the practice of tea drinking often become too simple and practical, or too complicate and spiritual, no matter how much information being given, we still don't know much about them.

If you have enjoyed your English Tea or Lipton, please continue to do so, but acknowledge that the English or Indian tea styles, “black” or “red,” are fermented teas, and often dyed, regardless of where the teas are produced. The charming colors of these teas are not natural but artificial. Because of their low cost and quality, the original flavors of these teas are so undesirable that one has to add sugar and milk. This began with the English and European tea enthusiasts, thereafter adding sugar, milk, or cream became a tradition of tea drinking. Likewise, most teas in bags are processed low-grade tealeaves and twigs, artificial flavoring and coloring needed. On the other hand, if you don't mind the strenuously spiritual Japanese Tea Ceremony, then continue to enjoy yourself.

That the fact is that most of the herbal blended teas are not Camellia Sinensis, therefore you will not get the health benefits that you hope from the herbal teas simply because they are not teas. You have to be very cautious with the tea extracts because no one really knows what they are except the people who produce them (who indeed know very little about what these extracts actually do to the body), especially, when these tea extracts claim to have exceptional and fast results in reducing body weight or gaining other health marvels.

Since Lu Yu (733-804), wrote his monumental The Classic of Tea, the first definitive book on cultivating, making, and drinking tea in the world, the Chinese have produced enormous texts covering every aspect of tea and tea drinking. It would take one's lifetime to translate these texts into a foreign language.

In the midst of the text ocean of tea information, two things concern us the most. How does tea and tea drinking help or benefit our spiritual growth? How does tea and tea drinking enhance or heal our body? We are fortunate that there have always been pioneers to help us understand the answer to the questions.

The English Taoist and Buddhist scholar John Blofeld (1913-1987), one of the few Westerners who truly understood the art of tea, stated: “One should recognize that drinking tea is something in itself, to be done for its own sake and not to fulfill an ulterior purpose; for only in this way can the drinker come to ‘taste sun light, wind and clouds’.”

Tea drinking is an effective way to slow us down from our busy-for-nothing or busy-to-escape contemporary life style. We can become responsive to, and aware of, our selves and our life. Therefore tea drinking thus can be an important part of our daily life. It is life itself as a practice that ultimately leads us to Awakening.

Practical and Basic Facts of Tea

All tea starts as fresh Camellia Sinensis leaves, but then falls into one of the three categories based on how long they are withered or fermented and dried:

Steaming/pan frying—Rolling and drying→→Green Tea, White Tea

Withering—partially fermenting—pan frying/drying→→Oolong Tea

Withering—fully fermenting—drying→→Black Tea, Red Tea, Yellow Tea, and White Tea

Green Tea is a raw tea and naturally higher in caffeine. According to the Chinese medicine, its nature is cold, which makes it good for releasing excessive body heat, hot flashes, fever, and headache. The high-grade green tea is made from high-grade tender tealeaves. For instance, the top grade Dragon Well, the most popular green tea, is made from the very top leaves of tea plants in spring, the entire tea harvest time is about two weeks per year. The high-grade Dragon Well is made by hand from the beginning to end of the process. The wholesale prices of such tea runs US $500-1000 per pound in China today.

Red Tea, Black Tea, and Yellow Tea are normally made from the low-medium grade tealeaves. Depending on the degrees of fermentation, red, black, or yellow teas are categorized. Black tea often is made from the roughest tealeaves and is fermented the longest of all the teas. It is dark in color and is usually the cheapest. Normally, artificial colors are added to black and red teas.

Puer Tea is a full and long time fermented tea, the entire value of Puer depends on the time of the fermentation. The fermentation of Puer Tea can be as long as hundreds of years, a pound of aged Puer tea can cost as much as US $25,000.

The nature of the fermented teas is hot which makes them good for balancing the excessive coldness of the body. They are also good for the digestive system, and can act as anti-diarrhetic, and help to relieve menstrual cramps.

Oolong Teas are made with the high-grade tealeaves. They are fermented moderately, which makes them neutral and lower in caffeine. They are excellent for losing weight and lowering blood pressure.

White Teas have two kinds, one is slightly fermented, and the other is raw like regular Green Tea. They are called white by their colors. Their natures depend on their preparations.

Floral Tea or Hua Cha is a flower blended with any medium-low grad tea: red, black, green, white, or oolong, but more often with green tea, for example Jasmine Tea. Jasmine flower has a hot nature, and green tea has a cold nature, so Jasmine Tea is more or less neutral. Another example would be Rose Tea, using dried rose flowers blended with tea.

Tie Guan Yin

Tie Guan Yin is a premium variety of Chinese oolong tea and is well known among the Oolong teas. Oolong teas are all semi-fermented teas that range from “green” to “black” by appearances depending on the degrees of fermentation. High grade Tie Guan Yin is made from tender and high-grade tealeaves. Premium Tie Guan Yin is the highest-grade green oolong tea that is a slightly fermented with a neutral nature. It has a uniquely subtle yet profound natural floral flavor that is well appreciated by everyone. It traditionally only has a small volume of production each year, therefore, like the high-grade Dragon Well, the cost of wholesale runs very high. In 2004, 100 grams of the best Tie Guan Yin was sold at an auction for US $30,000 in Guangzhou, China. Recently, 1k grams of good Tie Guan Yin was sold for US $1700 in England.

Named after the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, known as Guan Yin in Chinese Buddhism, Tie Guan Yin is translated as “Iron Goddess of Mercy” in English. There are many other spellings and names including; Ti Kuan Yin, Tit Kwun Yum, Ti Kwan Yin, Tieguanyin, Iron Buddha, and Iron Goddess of Mercy.

According to the Agriculture Division of High Education Text Book Committee of China, Oolong Tea originated in the thirteenth year of the Yongzheng regime (1725-1735) in Anxi County, Fujian province. Because of its excellent quality and unique flavor, Oolong Tea spread quickly throughout the entire Fujian province, Guangdong province, and Taiwan.

Anxi is located in the southeast Fujian province at latitude 24°50' - 25°26', longitude 117°36' - 118°17'. The mountainous red soil is layered with good water reservation, high contents of organic matters, rich minerals, manganese, zinc, and molybdenum. Such soil is not only suitable for the growth of Tie Guan Yin, but also dictates the unique appearance, natural aroma, and taste texture.

Archaeological excavations show that there were already highly developed human cultures tightly related to the main Chinese civilization about 4,000 years ago in Anxi. Over the years, there have been many wild tea trees about 20 feet in height discovered ranging between 1000-1200 years old. According to Anxi Annuls, people in Anxi started tea farming in the Late Tang Dynasty (618-907). The Buddhist and Taoist monks began to produce teas by the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The Anxi tea farmers discovered “asexual tea plant reproduction method” in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). They cultivated oolong tea during the late Ming Dynasty and the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Oolong tea production brought about the unique Tie Guan Yin tea, which finally elevated Anxi as one of the tea holy lands in China.

The Tie Guan Yin tea tree is a unique bush-type plant with uneven oblique branches. The thick leaves are elliptical shaped with a blunt tooth edge and dark green color. The early buds are purplish and red colors. The Tie Guan Yin tea plant is known as fragile and difficult to cultivate, with a growing time of only seven months each year. It starts Spring Equinox, and stops at Shuangjiang.

According to Anxi County Annuls, Tie Guan Yin tea originated in Xiping village, Anxi. There have been two popular legends widely circulated in Fujian province:

The “Wei Legend”

According to the Wei Legend, there was a man named Wei Yin in the Songyan village, Anxi County. He worked diligently in his tea farm and believed in Buddhism. He always offered a cup of tea to Guanyin in his shrine at every sunrise as well as every sunset for several decades. In the third year of the Qing Emperor Yongzheng's regime (1725), Wei Yin had a dream one night. Walking by a familiar creek side with his pick, he saw a unique and vital tea plant between the gaps of rocks. When Wei Yin approached the plant with great curiosity, the dog's barking woke him up from his dream.

The next morning, Wei Yin followed his dream walking along the creek side to the rocky place called the Guanyin's Sense and found the tea plant between the rock crevices that he saw in his dream.

He carefully observed the plant that has oval-shaped, thick leaves, purplish red buds, very different from the tea other plants. With a great excitement, he brought the plant home, put it in an iron tripod, and began to cultivate it cautiously.

A few years past, and the plant flourished with many more new branches and thick clusters of leaves. Wei began to harvest and prepare the tealeaves. He treated the tea as a family treasure and hid the tea in his secret jar. He only brewed the tea for his important guests. Once people had the tea, no one could ever forget it.

A literati scholar came to have the tea with Wei Yin one day. In a great surprise, the scholar asked: “What is this great tea?” Wei Yin told the scholar the dream and the discovery. He also told the scholar his intention to name the tea after “Iron Rohat,” (the enlightened Buddhist Dharma protector) because the rocks where the plant was found looked like Rohats, and the plant was cultivated later in the iron pot.

Shaking his head, the scholar said: “Some of the Rohats look too wrathful. How can you name such a precious thing like that? Guanyin appeared in your dream and directed you to the tea, it only suits its elegance to name the tea ‘Iron Guanyin’.”

The “Wang Legend”

The second legend began with the Confucian official Wang Shirang, who was born in the 26th year of the Qing emperor Kangxi' regime (1687) and died the 10th year of the emperor Qianlong's regime (1745). He became an imperial official in the 10th year of the emperor Yongzheng (1732). Wang Shirang had a passion for cultivating unique and rare plants. He built his library under the South Mountain, and named it “Southern Chamber.” In the spring of the first year of emperor Qianlong's regime (1736), Wang was off duty and on a vacation. He spent a lot of time in the “Southern Chamber” with his literati friends.

At sunset, he always took a walk in the uncultivated area nearby his “Southern Chamber.” On one of his walks, he saw a strange tea plant in the area, and transplanted it to his garden. After days of his meticulous care, the tea plant thrived with many branches, red buds and lush leaves. The prepared tea had a rich look, and an extraordinary aroma. The brewed tea went to the deepest place in one's heart when one drank it.

Wang Shirang was called by the imperial court on official business in the 6th year of emperor Qianlong's regime (1741). Paying his homage to the Department of Rites and Rituals, he presented his beloved tea as a gift to the emperor. Astonished by the extraordinary quality, Qianlong emperor had an audience with Wang Shirang. Learning the story about the tea, Qianlong emperor granted it the name Tieguanyin for the reason that the tea looked solid like iron, and its aroma stunningly reminds people of the beauty and compassion of Guanyin.

The origin and the naming of the tea from the Guanyin's blessing given to the emperor's granting indicates that the finest quality tea, and its noble birth explains its very costly nature. In the late 19th century, Tie Guan Yin became a favorite Chinese tea overseas and throughout Southeast Asia. In the 1970s, Tie Guan Yin became popular first in Japan, and then spread in the world.

Medicinal Facts of Tea

Besides the long cherished value of tea as a “spiritual drink,” practically, tea has been one of the “seven most important matters in the Chinese life,” the idiom follows the order of firewood, rice, cooking oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar, and tea. Chinese have discovered that there are many medicinal functions of tea. Tea can treat common illness and physical ailments, and can enhance health and longevity.

According to Chinese medicine, the fermented teas such as yellow, red, and black have a “hot” tendency that enhances the “hot element” in the body. On the other hand, unfermented teas, or all green teas have a “cold” tendency that enhances the “cold element” in the body. In a healthy human body, the “hot and cold elements” are well balanced. When the balance is off, we feel discomfort or become sick. This balance is normally achieved or maintained by a good diet, rest, and exercise.

In recent decades, doctors and health professionals have acknowledged the importance of food and drink regarding nutrition values, chemical analyses, and calorie calculations. In more traditional cultures, food and drink are still considered medicinal remedies. In the Chinese daily life practices, if you are constipated, you will often be recommended to eat kiwi, and stay away from Bing cherries; and drink green tea instead of red or black tea. Likewise, if you have diarrhea, you should eat Bing cherries and drink red or black teas.

Tea:

  • Increases energy while having a calming effect
  • Releases excessive heat or coldness from the body
  • Detoxifies the body, acts as a diuretic
  • Improves digestive system, helps the colon and bowel movement
  • Reduces body fat, strengthen the heart
  • As an anti-diarrheic, treats hemorrhoids internally
  • Cleanses lungs and cuts down mucous levels
  • Cleanses blood and liver
  • Prevents dehydration
  • Prevents constipation
  • Prevents heart attack and heart failure
  • Reduces blood alcohol levels
  • Improves eyesight, strengthens gums and teeth

The information below is provided by the modern Chinese medicine research by some Western style medicine universities in China:

Tea contains:

Vitamin A
7-20 mg per 100g—prevents cataracts, lung cancer.
Vitamin B
8-15 mg per 100g, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B12. Tea contains higher levels of B2 and B5 than most fruits and vegetables. B3 prevents hair loss, strengthens kidneys, B5 slows down skin aging. B6 regulates the nervous system.
Vitamin C
100-500 mg per 100g, Tea contains the highest level of VC
Vitamin E
24-70 mg per 100g enhances the reproductive system, and immune system, slows down the aging process.
Vitamin K
300-500 IU per gram, increases blood circulation and metabolism.
Amino Acids
A large amount of proteins, about 8 types of amino acids that are 20-30% of tea's net weight, and a variety of minerals.

Tea Can Help:

  • Reduce body weight by dissolving body fat and cholesterol through urination.
  • Lower blood pressure and cut down excessive blood sugar.
  • The stomach and abdominal pain often caused by stomach and colon muscle spasms, the multiple tea properties can relax stomach and colon muscles, and produce a variety of multifunctional enzymes and biochemicals such as stomach protease, inositol, pantothenic acid, lecithin, and many others to help and balance digestive system.
  • Prevent common flu, cough, sinus infection, sore throat, and treat and ease asthmatic and bronchial problems.
  • Treat urinary diseases, kidney and prostate infections.
  • Prevent and treat cancer.
  • Prevent and treat diabetes. Tea contains certain substances that can enhance the formation or reformation of insulin in the human body, and tea also can dissolve blood sugar and excessive body sugar. Drinking a total of 10g of tea every day can regulate blood sugar to its normal level.

Basic Historic Facts About Tea

Tea originated in China more than 4000 years ago. The Chinese have had practical healing experience with tea for more than 2000 years. Therefore, the traditional Chinese teaching and practice of tea should be more seriously considered.

wild tea tree in Qianjiazhai, Yunnan

The earliest textual evidence describes tea as an imperial tribute in China in 1066 B.C. Villager Lou Zhongxiang discovered a wild tea tree in Qianjiazhai, Yunnan in the spring of 1983. Then in 1996, a team of botanists, biologists, scientists, and archeologists measured the tree at 25.6 meters in height and 20 meters in diameter, making the tea tree 2700 years old, the oldest and largest wild tea tree in the world.

another wild tea tree in Fengqing, Yunnan

In 2007, another wild tea tree was found in Fengqing, Yunnan. It measured 11 meters in height, 6 meters in trunk, and was identified as being 3200 years old.

Tea History

2737-2697 B.C.
The Chinese Legendary Emperor Shen Nong discovered Tea
1066 B.C.
Textual evidence describes Tea as an imperial tribute
547-490 B.C.
Textual evidence describes King Qijinggong drinking or eating Tea
206-24 B.C.
Textual evidence describes Tea trading, the early Chinese Buddhist cultivation of Tea
25-220 A.D.
Textual evidence describes medical benefits of Tea, textual description of Tea drinking
265-420 A.D.
Textual evidence describes the imperial gift of Tea replacing wine
581-618 A.D.
Textual evidence describes the Sui Emperor as being cured by drinking Tea
618-907 A.D.
The Imperial Tea Institute was established in 770
Tea Trading between China and Tibet, Central Asia, the Middle East, and beyond was established
10% Tea trading taxation was imposed in 780
The first Tea Book in the world was written by Lu Yu
The Japanese Buddhist monk Zuichen brought Tea to Japan, tea drinking became a high fashion among nobilities and monks in Japan
The Japanese Buddhist saint and priest Saicho and monk Kobo Daishi brought tea seeds and cultivation and manufacturing tips back from China and planted gardens in the Japanese temples in 805
The most exquisite tea ware in Chinese history was made in 847
960-1279 A.D.
The Song Emperor Zhaoji wrote his book “Treaties on Tea in Daguan Time”, which brought the Tea Learning or Tea Culture to its highest degree in Chinese history in 1107
1368-1644 A.D.
The first Ming Emperor established the Central Department of Tea, and he also changed the traditional form of Tea (bricks or chunks into loose leaves), which greatly stimulated the green tea production
1644-1911 A.D.
The Chinese abandoned powdered tea and the tea-boiling style, the process of steeping whole tea leaves in teapots becomes popular, the Yixing Clay Teapots became popular but expensive, the most exquisite Yixing teapots were made by Shi Dabin in Chinese history in the mid and late 1500's
Dutch imported to Holland via Macao in 1610
Tea imported to Denmark in 1616
Tea imported to Russia in 1618
Tea was sold in France in 1657
East India Company began to import Tea to England in 1669
Chinese Tea Trade was licensed in Boston in 1860
The Chinese Tea exporting reached 130,400.00 tons by 1861
The Chinese Tea Association was established in London in 1907
Thomas Lipton begins blending and packaging his tea in New York in 1909
Sumatra, Indonesia becomes cultivators and exporters of tea followed by Kenya and parts of Africa in 1910
1983-1996 A.D.
A large number of primitive tea trees were discovered, including the 85 feet tall and 2700 year old tea tree, in Yuannan, China.

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