For our purposes, the history of tea can be divided into three waves:
– First Wave – “Boiled Tea”
– Second Wave – “Whipped Tea”
– Third Wave – “Steeped Tea”
Boiled Tea ~ tang dynastyNote: A lot of the research here is from www.thehistoryoftea.com
As far as we can research, it seems that this first stage in the recordable history of tea had tea almost “stewed”. The early stages (still reminiscent in the masala chai of the Himalayas) had tea boiled with butter, salt, onions, spices, and a variety of other ingredients that would seem awfully strange today. This technique was gradually “refined”, if that is the right word, by the Chinese, culminating in the work of Luwuh in the eight century. This “Boiled Tea” master seems to have been the first to perfect removing all the ingredients but salt and broke down steeping times, ratios of tea to water, and looked into the quality of leaves. He wrote the “Chaking”, a book of tea that eventually brought him such fame that he was befriended by Emperor Taisung.
Whipped Tea ~ sung dynasty
“Whipped Tea”, or “maccha” as it is called in Japan, was the last of the waves that treated tea as a religious expression. The Sung dynasty gave birth to it and many Buddhists took to its preparation, utilizing its health effects to stave off drowsiness during meditation. The Zen Buddhist sects elevated tea drinking into a spiritual ceremony. However, the Mongolian invasion and subsequent unseating of the Sung all but destroyed the “Whipped Tea” era in China.
It was able to live on in Japan, having made the journey there through Zen Buddhists. The Mongols tried to invade Japan twice, but both times found themselves thwarted by sudden “kamikaze”, or god winds, that destroyed their fleets.
Maccha in Japan was thus able to live on, develop, and flourish, gradually giving rise to the iconic Japanese Tea Ceremony we know today.
Steeped Tea ~ ming dynasty
“Steeped Tea”, the way of preparing tea we know today, is actually the most modern manifestation of tea.
Black tea came to being by mistake when Yunnan tea growers mistakenly neglected to process their green tea for export to England. It browned and went bad, but they thought the English wouldn’t know the difference and sent it anyway. The delicate flavours were much better suited to the long trip at the time, and it became the rage in Britain.
Oolong tea is playing with the amount of time one waits before processing, making for a very interesting journey of the spectrum of green to black tea.
Boiled tea to whipped tea to steeped tea: the history of tea, with its attention to steeping times, ratios and water profiles, its religious zeal, has had a very profound effect on the modern tea drinker. Masala chai, maccha and loose tea are a journey through time.