The Mongol, or Yuan dynasty was in its turn overthrown by a mass uprising of the native Chinese which was coordinated by means of messages concealed in special cakes made for the FestiÂval of the Autumn Moon. The messages were circulated via the teahouses of the Empire in the fall of 1368 and brought to the throne the native Chinese Ming emperors (1368-1644). Their imperial Ming majesties inherited few or none of the fruits of Tang and Song culture. Manners and customs had changed so radically that few vestiges of former times remained. To quote the Japanese Kakuzo Okakura, author of our own century’s classic, The Book of Tea: “We find a Ming commentator at a loss to reÂcall the shape of the tea whisk mentioned in one of the Song clasÂsics. Tea is now taken by steeping the leaves in hot water in a bowl or cup. The reason why the Western world is innocent of the older methods of drinking tea is eXplained by the fact that Europe knew it only at the close of the Ming dynasty.” Innovators, surely TaoÂist/Buddhist and probably in Sichuan, had invented loose leaf tea such as we use today. Less than two decades after the Ming dyÂnasty came to the throne, a certain Gu Yunqing continued the traÂdition of writing a book to explain the new-fashioned tea. His Cha Pu describes manufacturing loose leaf tea and how to preÂpare it properly in the guywan or covered cup. The Chinese took to this simplified way of tea drinking just as Americans would one day take to tea bags.
It is not clear exactly how China’s tea evolved so rapidly durÂing this period. My distinguished colleague Dr. Robert Gardella writes in Harvesting Mountains: “During the brief and turbulent span of Mongol rule over the whole of China (1279-1368), habÂits of tea consumption began to change, with leaf tea gradually gaining general acceptance at the expense of powdered and comÂpressed teas….Unfermented green tea was the earliest version of leaf tea, originating in the late twelfth century. In the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Buddhist and Taoist monks carried a reÂfined version of green tea processing from Songluo (located in Huizhou in modern Anhui) to the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian. The development of fermented teas in the sixteenth century produced the so-called black teas (hongcha) that became staple exports to the West in the early to mid-Qing (1644-1911), teas such as souchong (xiaozhong), congou (xiaozhong gongfu), and Bohea (Wuyi). The eighteenth century saw the appearance of two other types of tea, oolong (wu-lung) and pekoe (Bai Hao).. ..Buddhist and Taoist establishments in the Wuyi Mountains took the lead in introducing new processing methods from outside the area.” As far as he goes, Dr. Gardella is no doubt correct, but the perhaps unanswerable question is just how long these new tea types exÂisted in China before being made in the area of his study, i.e., Fujian Province.
The new types of tea China developed were to play a major role in the flourishing of trade with Europeans after 1750. MeanÂwhile the old Song-style whipped tea was remembered and preÂserved only in Japan.
Read the entire “In the Beginning” series.