tea culture is the crystallization of Chinese people"s tradition and custom of drinking tea combined with the development of their technique of processing tea leaves to produce the final product. Tea is a shrub ( Thea sinensis ) which has fragrant white flowers and evergreen leaves. The dried leaves of this plant, plucked in various stages of growth and prepared by various processes, are used to make a hot beverage. If the leaves are fully fermented or oxidized before drying, the final product is called black tea because it is dark in color. "Black tea" is the term used by English-speaking people. In the Chinese language it is referred to as "red tea" in contrast to "green tea".
Chinese people began to cultivate tea shrubs as early as 3,000 years ago. But it was only late in the sixth century A. D. during the Tang Dynasty that people drank tea in great numbers. Poets and writers appeared who extolled the virtues of tea and described the delightful effects of drinking tea one cup after another. Ahead of them, ancient linguists had taken great pains to create five hieroglyphs all meaning the same thing, which was tea, each with a different pronunciation and some slight difference in connotation. This circumstance caused a lot of confusion in reading and interpretation. Efforts directed at simplification were made by scholars without much effect until Lu Yu, author of the Classic of Tea, decided in the eighth century to simplify one of the hieroglyphs and alter its pronunciation to correspond with the popular pronunciation "cha" of the accepted Chinese name of the substance tea. Of the other hieroglyphs only one, pronounced "ming", still remains in common use, though more often in writing than in colloquial Chinese.
The custom of drinking tea widened its scope of influence at high speed and penetrated into nooks of people"s daily life. Whenever a guest or a casual visitor arrived, the offer of a cup of Chinese tea to him/her would show at least respect, if not friendship and affection, at a cost which bespeaks emphasis on frugality rather than pretence of affluence. Therefore, for more than a thousand years, the serving of tea to a guest has been the universal etiquette in China, which has long enjoyed the fame of being a land of ceremony and propriety.
However, in the last twenty or thirty years a change in people"s behavior occurred in their capacity as visitors. In fact, guests generally refrain from drinking the tea offered by the host for fear of getting some infectious disease. It would be advisable, therefore, that the host sterilize the teacups and pour boiling water into them to steep the tea leaves in full view of the guests.
Now, let"s return to the time of Tang Dynasty(618-907),which was soon to be followed by the Soong Dynasty(960-1270), and continue our pursuit of tea culture in the tenth and eleventh centuries A.D. The drinking of Chinese tea in that era was generally oriented towards aestheticism. The Chinese tea party ought to be limited in size. The optimum number of people present was considered at that time to be four. The meeting began usually with a discussion of the quality of the tea served. This discussion was termed "evaluating the tea", or by literal translation "placing the tea in its appropriate class". Then, a topic about current events in the imperial court, history, literature, especially poetry, and arts, especially painting, would be taken up for analysis, praise or criticism. These topics, to which none of them was a stranger, would occupy most of the time of the tea party. One of them would probably become tired of this persevering assiduity and cracked a joke, as if by accident. Another one, who, though a little dull at starting game, might be intelligent in hunting it down. The aesthetic, scholarly conversation paused, and bantering began among them in greater excitement. Of course, they had no idea at all that the increased excitement might have been caused by the caffeine and theophylline in the tea, which they had drunk in large volumes. Some other topic, also aesthetic in essence, which would not exactly do for a lady"s ear, might be raised, perhaps for the purpose of teasing one of those present at the tea party. There would be abundant laughter at the end of the merry meeting accompanied by a lot more of tea drinking.
In the next few centuries, the custom of drinking Chinese tea and the cultivation of tea spread to other parts of the world, and trade in tea assumed great importance in the world. It was so important as to create a turning point in world history. In 1773, the British Parliament gave special advantages to the East India Company for the importation of tea into America with a total disregard of the colonial tea trade which existed at that time. The colonists resolved to refuse and boycott this tea. When the tea importers at Boston showed themselves stubborn and insisted on landing their cargoes, a band of men disguised as Indians, boarded the three tea ships, in the presence of a great crowd of people, and threw the tea overboard (December 16, 1773). This was truly an epoch-making event not only for Americans but for people of the whole world.
Contemporary tea-drinking people of China pay great attention to the health-care properties of the tea they drink. It is necessary to mention here that tea contains two alkaloids,i.e. caffeine and theophylline besides a number of other chemical ingredients. Both caffeine and theophylline are diuretics and cardiac stimulants. They can stimulate the central nervous system of the human body; thereby lifting the personĄŻs spirits and invigorating his/her brain function. If a person drinks a few cups of tea a day, the acidic substances in his/her muscles, being neutralized from time to time, will not be able to accumulate. He/She will not easily feel tired; will almost always be in high spirit, and will be able to work with high efficient.
In the present-day world obese people tend to increase in number. The flavonoid, aromatic substances, and theophylline that exist in tea can reduce the contents of cholesterol and triglyceride in human blood and also diminish the density of blood fat. Therefore, they have the power of reducing adipose.
When a person is watching TV, it will do him/her good to drink tea at the same time. This is not just for simultaneous enjoyment of taste and sight. There is a scientific reason underlying this dual act. When the TV set is working, the fluorescent screen emits rays which are harmful to human health. Although the dosage of such rays is very small, it will play havoc with the person"s blood-making mechanism if the distance from the person to the TV set is very short and the time spent on watching the TV show is too long. Scientific experiments have shown that drinking tea can protect the human body from harmful effect of radiation. It can be inferred that tea leaves must contain material(s) which can defend the bodyĄŻs blood-making mechanism. For example, if a person has been engaged in work which obliges him/her to be subjected to radiation for a long period, the total number of leucocytes in his/her blood may become lower than 5,000 or even lower than 4,000 per cubic mm.
It will be necessary for him/her to persist in drinking a large amount of Chinese tea for three or four weeks in order to make the number of leucocytes per cubic mm rise to the normal level. A person who is fond of watching TV may need to drink every day three to five cups of tea, which should not be too dilute, to fend off the effect of radiation from the fluorescent screen.
There often appear on an old person"s face and the backs of his/her hands what are called senile plaques. They are worse than wrinkles and hurt the person"s dignity and self-respect. In order to get rid of them, the person needs to drink green tea. Researchers say that they have discovered the chemical reactions underlying this ability of the green tea. We don"t need to delve into the theory or doctrine they have put forward. What we deem it necessary to do is to advise you to drink green tea.
The last thing we would like to tell you here is that drinking at least one cup of tea a day will reduce the risk of suffering a heart attack by at least 40%. This is probably due to the fact that tea contains flavonoid and certain vitamins which prevent blood to coagulate inside the human body.