The Age of Tea

it’s all in the brew

What originated over 2,500 years ago, derived from China, created a culture within itself, and simultaneously risk lead poisoning??

What some drink on a daily basis, or at times, in leisure occasions.  It is an art before its brew, and a class of its own upon brewing and practice.  We celebrate it in an annual festival as a culture and is beneficial to one’s health.  As they say, “drink to your health!”

The Yunnan Southern mountain ranges, located along the border of Vietnam and Myanmar, is home to the oldest living tea trees on the planet!  Yunnan is where tea was tamed and famed – the cultural start.  In the forests are wild tea trees dating as far back as 1,700 years, the cultivated trees, over 800 years – and all still producing buds and shoots that are processed into the very teas we drink today.

Orchid Oolong [Loose Leaf Tea is one of the worlds most exquisite teas. It smells fresh,just as the blooms orchid. The leaves are so beautiful and the aroma is so full with this premium orchid however that you may feel inclined to prepare this particular one in glass; we enjoy it in a tempered stem glass. Most Oolongs offer the best aroma in the first cup with the best flavor in the second or third cup. Again this lovely Orchid breaks all the “rules” providing a fragrance that follows through cup after cup matching the lasting flavor. How did tea in Taiwan branch-out?
Understanding the history to fully appreciate the land and process it derived from.

What is the Taiwanese Tea Culture Festival?
Deepening into the meaning of various festivals and seeing why teas are prepared in different manners based on occasion and location.

What are the different grades and types of Taiwanese tea?
Ranges, flavours, colours and grades – how they appeal to our five senses.

How much lead is safe?
Seeking the knowledge to be safe, how much can we drink?

We are trying to invest a particle of this warmth into every cup of our tea, the lightness of the Taiwanese porcelain, the shagginess of clay and the perplexing beauty of Taiwanese tea parties we offer. (April 2003)

"We are trying to invest a particle of this warmth into every cup of our tea, the lightness of the Taiwanese porcelain, the shagginess of clay and the perplexing beauty of Taiwanese tea parties we offer." (April 2003)

Branching Out:

Tea trees are naturally native to Taiwan and are theorized to have been used by the early aboriginal inhabitants for medical purpouses.  The developed tea culture was developed prior to the 17th Century (between the time of Ming and Qing Dynasties) :  tea was used as a beverage and used within ritual ceremonies, and considered as a variation of food with medicinal properties.  Those within reach of obtaining the tea, were people of wealth, power, or scholarly backgrounds.

The ever preferred Oolong tea didn’t have a factory until its first establishment in 1868,
and the first shipment, in 1869 delivered to New York and have been since
internationally recognized.  In the following years, American and European business
interests were established in the motherland [Taiwan] with the purpouse of making the
tea, an utmost priority as an export commodity.

The Japanese: From 1895 – 1495 of Japanese rule, they established much of the contributed infrastructure in the development of Taiwan, including the organization of the tea industry and production.  At this time, the Japanese promoted Taiwanese tea at world fairs and succeeded in expanding the market for green tea in the United States and Western Europe.  The Japanese held a preference to green tea (due their knowledge and culture, Uji tea began to be imported from Japan, attracting wealthy and influencial Japanese and Taiwanese consumers alike), however experimented with Nitton black tea production as well, through introducing seedlings from Assam, India. Their established testings and research facilities, including some of the clonal varietals, developed by the Japanese inhabitants remain popular today in Taiwanese culture, history and Taiwanese-tea-culture.  In 1906, the Taiwan Governor’s Office began to assist private organizations, including the Taiwan Tea Businessmen’s Association, in introduction of Taiwanese tea globally through teashop establishments within international fairs.  In exposing the culture, elegant packaging, the refined and professional serving techniques, the image of Taiwan tea was quickly recognized as a higher art.

Beloved by the Japanese and Taiwanese.

Beloved by the Japanese and Taiwanese.

The Chinese: At the end of Japanese sovereign rule over Taiwan, the Chinese (mainly Tang Ji-shan) introduced their method of producing green, oolong, baojhong, and black teas, which later developed as the major tea export for the next 30 years, openning the culture not to the limited recognized people, but to the greater masses.  Though green tea was the most popular and widely-exported, Oolong was redefining Taiwanese culture and dominated the domestic market.  The introduction in 1949 of fried green teas (such as jhu and mei tea), only 14 years following did steamed green tea (Sen tea), began to be exported to Japan.  Once Taiwan tea exports had reached its peak in 1973, the greatest export was Sen tea.  During this period of mass production, the government established the Interministerial Taiwan Tea Improvement Organization to help assist private tea enterprises.  Taiwan Tea Manufacturers’ Association and Taiwan Tea Exporters Association became the strength, face and back-bone in promoting Taiwanese teas.

Global distribution of Taiwanese green tea died off only one year later (at the start of
1974), Oolong tea made their second debute in the market.  Strength of the Taiwanese tea
market is due to the long history of the sacred tea culture, kept alive at the grass roots
level and by organizations dedicated to tea research and education.  Traditional tea
houses play a role in this specific culture, conducting seminars for the public to observe
tea production and preparation.

Taiwan Provincial Government’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry sponsored a
provincial tea exhibition in Sindian City and through the collaboration of county
governments, farmers’ associations, and the mass media – a stable foundation was
created for promoting tea on the domestic market.  August 14, 1977, the Chinese Kung
Fu Tea house (forerunner of Taiwan’s modern tea houses), was established.  Throughout
the 1980s, the newly branched tea houses organized into associations devoted to the
promotion of tea culture, increasing the desire in research and tourism.

Latest in history, in the Summer of 2006, the tea was promoted by cultural exchanges in
Taipei Tea Culture Expo.

Set of carved wooden implements for the Chinese tea ceremony designed with a lotus theme.

Set of carved wooden implements for the tea ceremony, designed with a lotus theme.

Taiwan Tea Culture Festival:

A Kung Fu Tea Ceremony (功夫茶) is a type of Chinese tea ceremony, a Chaozhou and Min Nan way of preparing tea with great skill.  The origin of the ceremony derived from Lu Yu‘s The Classic of Tea (8th century), popular since the Qing Dynasty.  Within Kung Fu Tea (literally meaning “tea brewed with great skill”), instead of attending to the  focus of symbolic hand gestures (please refer to: Japanese Tea Ceremony), the taste of the tea is paramount. Though Kong Fu Tea brewing method is known for its uncompromising steps, it holds notable local styles and equipment; adding to the richness of culture.

Curtis Smith, Grand Valley State University professor of Chinese language and literature, demonstrates a traditional tea ceremony.

Curtis Smith, Grand Valley State University professor of Chinese language and literature, demonstrates a traditional tea ceremony.

It has been suggested that the chemistry and physics behind this tea is what makes this
method far superior to others; two things are taken into consideration: 

Chemistry: The art in this is water, which tastes and scent affects the brew.  Tea itself is
99.99% water; however, distilled or soft the water, it should never be utilized as they are
deficient in crucial minerals and would result in a “flat” tasting liquor.  For these reasons,
tea masters use only a clean and reliable, local source of spring water, which is plenty in
Taiwan (please refer to past post, “Reintroducing An Old Culture“).  Hard water should be
avoided at all cost
, even once after it has been filtered.

Temperature: The tea master determines the appropriate temperature for tea used in
order to properly extract the essential oils of the tea to enhance flavour.  Too high of a
temperature will result in bitterness, therefore, once an optimal temperature is reached,
should be maintained at a constant.

A Perennial Tea Ceremony (四序茶會) is a Chinese tea ceremony, created by Lin Easu (林易山), of the Ten Ren Teaism Foundation.  The first two characters, “四序”  literally mean four sequences that are linked together, and “茶會” translates to “tea ceremony,” meanings of eternal continuity, perfect harmony, rhythm and vitality of nature., promoting cultivation of love and respect for nature.  Each of the four participants represents a season of the year; along with the “center” of the ceremony are incense burners and flowers.  In total, these five represent the five elements and colors: each participant with assigned season, perimeters around the center—the earth— representing the continuous cycle of seasons, hence, Perennial Tea Ceremony.  The ceremony in itself is a vital link to modern tea culture and ceremony with the tradition of Chinese Tea Lore Ceremony.

In the Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony (), it is a style of Chinese tea ceremony that offers participants to establish a sense of equality and shedding sense of prejudice in a ceremony to forgetting about knowledge, wealth, and appearance.  There is no differention of class, status or social differences, the purpouse is to gather as equals.

國立故宮博物院 茶會  -  National Palace Museum Tea Ceremony

國立故宮博物院 茶會 - National Palace Museum Tea Ceremony.

Concept: The words are of philosophical meaning, hence the sense and purpouse of
peace in the ceremony.  “Wu” (/无) meaning a void, or absolute peace (emptiness) in
the mind’s senses; it is therefore like an infinite space.  “Wo” () defines as: mine, self or
the state of being.  With both words combined, they appear as if in contradiction in
terms: “wo”, seems like being and “wu”, the opposite of being…  The interpretation of “無
我/无我” (Wu-Wo), means to empty one’s mind to the degree of an infinite void, a state of
edgelessness that it neither senses, seeks to sense, nor can be sensed.   It is just the
simple and clear state of “being,” without any level of physical, mental, or emotional

Symbol: A “circular rainbow” is the recognized symbol for the Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony,
consisting of seven basic colors that when used together, transforms into a blank white
light.  The Ceremony pursues the circular rainbow and towards the blank light (empty
circle) from within the centre.

Levels and Grades:

There were two main types whose primary difference lay in the color of their sprouts: Taiwan mountain tea, which had greenish or light-purple sprouts, and purplish-red sprout mountain tea, which had fuchsia sprouts. Taiwan teas held little commercial value at first, but this changed after improvements were made to Taiwan Tea No. 18, which was suitable for making black tea.

Tea leaf-picking in the tea field of Yilan, Taiwan

Tea leaf-picking in the tea field of Yilan, Taiwan

The Beauty of Taiwanese Tea

Whether focusing on aesthetical theory or practice, every aspect of Taiwan tea serves as a paradigm for both life and art.

The beauty of Taiwanese tea resides in the flavor, with the aesthetic standards: clearness of its coloring, the purity of its taste, and the elegance of its aroma.  Taiwanese teas vary greatly in flavor that range from soft to charming, and refined to strong.  One tea that is widely represented is the mildly fragrant Oolong tea: a clear and odorous tea made from semi-spherically shaped leaves.  The sweet scent and richness in flavour embodies the essence of Taiwan’s very mountains, rivers, the condensation of fragrance and dew. Ranging in selected varieties, it is a soothing tea unparalleled in this world.

Since ancient times, the island has been well recognized for its natural spring water, the aesthetic standard for classic tea.  Its water must be sweet, fragrant, clear, and chilled, before the art of pouring and serving tea.  Clear, implies clarity in color; chilled, refreshingly cool and pleasing to the touch; and sweet and fragrant, refers to the taste and smell: appealing to all five senses.

Art of the tea culture comes from the manner of serving and pouring, but all which derives from the pot one handles.  Tea sets used in this custom are refined, elegant, and colored in mild and tender hues ranging in countless variety of shapes and form, they are beautifully artistically crafted.  With numerous functions and uses, they are widely appreciated for its uniqueness and are convenient and efficient to handle.  The skill in craftsmanship has advanced to such a degree that it is no longer considered a craft, but a highly elevated art form.

Service, mannerisms and technique, all possess: charming poises and regal bearing; soft, graceful, and restrained gestures; traditional techniques; a dignified and graceful, reserved manner; and a warm and genial temperament.  The service of tea-serving techniques range in a variety of styles, in order to properly and delicately suit each occasion.

Next to the Pinglin Tea Industry Museum (坪林茶葉博物館) is a traditional style tea house, Pinglin Tea Arts (坪林茶藝), set in a beautiful garden.

Next to the Pinglin Tea Industry Museum (坪林茶葉博物館) is a traditional style tea house, Pinglin Tea Arts (坪林茶藝), set in a beautiful garden.

Tea houses are considered a natural and cultural beauty of Taiwan.  Private tea parlors reveal their elaborate designs in significance to the many different tastes.  They are generally meticulously known to be decorated in a clear and distinct style: emphasize the occasion of a natural setting; outdoors tea houses (park and garden tea houses), an intellectual occasion, are like paintings of Chinese gardens; modern literati-style tea houses, a personal setting, serving as hidden retreats with the stillness and silence as the environment thousands of years ago; British-style tea houses, formal occasion, are warm, fragrant, clear, and attractive, capturing local flavors of the British countryside; folk tea houses; traditional or leisure occasion, through its arts, reflects the cultural and historical relics of Taiwan and Taiwanese traditions; modern tea houses, casual occasion, are designed simple, elegant, and refined, builds the sense of harmony harmony; educational tea houses, student or refined occasion, consists an atmosphere considering tea education to as a long-term art and culture; agritourism tea houses, leisure occasion, decorated to experience the true charm in the senses of enjoying Taiwanese tea; folk art tea houses, leisure or business occasion, their fine-featured music and dance performances, emphasize the passing on of folk arts and culture; and salon tea houses, casual occasion, serving as gathering places for literary circles, are known to host theoretical talks.  The diversity of tea houses has taken the culture into another level, not just traditional, but fashionable even to be enjoyed by the youths of our time.

Delicacies lay within the refreshments that accompany with the tea in its classical nature.  Many dishes even use the feature tea as the primary ingredient in their recipes, such as with tea moon cakes, tea wines, tea noodles, and such like products.

For variations of Oolong Tea, please visit through this site.

Explaining Lead in Teas

For those of us who enjoy the sense and taste of the richness and dryness of flavour that a strong tea brings, sometimes we just get into the convenience of, brewing it longer until that desired, darkened colour appears in our pots, kettles or cups.  The joy of the rich flavour that joyfully stirs along our tastebuds and teases our pallets up unto our next sip.  What could surpass the joy of enjoying such a tea in its utmost, convenient refinement?

Lead found in over-brewed teas.  (Consumption of 3 liters before showing risk)

Lead found in over-brewed teas. (Consumption of 3 liters before showing risk)

In the latest findings through the Hong Kong Consumer Council, over-brewing your tea increases the chance of lead being released into your drink!  In a research, 46 samples were being tested from different supermarkets, restaurants and tea houses in Hong Kong, confirmed their fears: the teas resulted in high levels of lead than those steeped for a short time.  (In the research, three brewed tea samples, each elapsed a 30 minute time period.)

In one sample of Oolong tea, it was found to have lead content, recorded at 9.3mg, exceeding the Chinese National Standard set limit of 5mg per 1000g.  Overwhelmingly, traces of lead are not enough!  Pesticide residues were detected within other samples tested.  All but one teabag tested, passed the standard with 0.2mg per 1000g for the pesticide DDT on tea leaves.  A representative of the council, preferred to remain anonymous, recommends not to let the tea sit too long to prevent danger of any heavy metal or pesticide contamination.

Assuming that lead is not ingested in other food or drinks (such as with the tainted milk and lead paint poisoning found within Chinese exports), one would require 13 liters of the tea to be recognized as “being at risk.”  Despite the low risk, the council advise against consuming tea leaves found in food or beverages.

~ by Lan on 2008 Sun+00:002009-01-18T11:32:43+00:00. 15.

2 Responses to “The Age of Tea”

  1. […] is the original:  The Age of Tea Tags: ceremony, china, chinese-tea-ceremony, hong-kong, interview, japan, knowledge, lu-yu, photos, […]

  2. nice site i have some info about wu-wo tea ceremony also…

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