11 March 2009

Tea Drinking during the Tang Dynasty

I visited the Flagstaff Museum of teaware in Hong Kong Park before I left the city.  It's quite a nice place with some fine examples of ancient Chinese teaware.

The theme of several of the galleries was tea drinking and tea culture during different Chinese dynastic periods.  Of particular interest to me was the style of brew during the Tang dynasty, which is the time period that the great tea philosopher and author of the Classic of Tea, Lu Yu, lived.

The wall mural mentioned that powdered tea was the dominant style during the Tang dynasty.  This is not to be confused with the powdered & whipped type of tea of the Song dynasty that the Japanese now call Matcha.  According to the exhibit, the powdered teas of the Tang dynasty could also be mixed with different herbs and seasonings, such as camphor or ginger.

The museum's display listed the following steps that were performed for the Tang-style brew, which I've paraphrased below:

1)  Boil the water until large bubbles (fish-eye sized) form and a whistling sound (like wind blowing through Pine trees) is heard

2)  Add a pinch of salt to season the water

3)  When the water has bubbles like a string of pearls, set aside a ladle of water for later use (this later use is not specified)

4)  Stir the water with bamboo chopsticks as it continues to boil

5)  Add the tea powder; froth will form.  The tea is now ready.

Beginning in the Tang dynasty, certain types of pressed and baked tea cakes were made that would become even more popular during the Song dynasty.  These types of cakes weren't as fermented as puerh, nor was the fermentation or aging processes prized qualities of these baked cakes.  As far as I know, fermented bricks or cakes of teas also existed that were more similar to puerh, but these types of teas were more prized for their ability to be stored and transported rather than their taste.  The tea cakes of the Tang dynasty were broken up and infused with hot water, or crushed into a powder and mixed with boiling water as in the above instructions.

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