Drinking tea has been popular since the Dongjin Dynasty (317-420).  During the intervening centuries, tea has become a part of daily Chinese life and resulted in lots of interesting stories.

The first story involves Lu Yu, who had the amazing ability to identify water from different sources.  Long ago, the famous writer and governor Li Jiqing traveled with his friend Lu Yu to Yangzhou.  Lu Yu, who was already quite famous for his tea knowledge, considered the water in Yangzhou to be quite good for tea making, so a soldier was dispatched to get some water from Nanning, located in the center of the Yangzi River.

A few hours later, the soldier arrived with the water.  Lu Yu poured some of the water out and said, “It’s Yangzi River water, but not Nanning water.  It looks like it came from the bank.  But how could that be possible?”  The solider answered, “I went by boat and hundreds of people saw me leaving.”  Lu Yu just smiled and let the solider keep ladling out the water.  “Hold on,” Lu Yu said suddenly when about half the water had been ladled out.  “Now it’s Nanning water.”  The soldier was shocked.  “Master Lu, you’re amazing.  Yes, I filled the bottle with Nanning water, but because of the bumping of the boat, some water spilled and I was afraid of being scolded.  So I put some water into the bottle when I arrived at the bank.”  Then Li Jiqing asked Lu Yu, “So which water is the best?”  In response, Lu Yu described how water is ranked.  Clearly, water is the mother of tea, so it is important that great care be put into its selection.

The second story is about Gongfu tea.  In Fujian Province and Chaozhou, Gongfu tea is very popular and you may notice guests tapping the table with their fingers.  But what does that mean?  It turns out that this is a way of expressing thanks.  This old Chinese-style ritual of thanking someone can be traced to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and Emperor Qian Long, who used to travel incognito.  While visiting South China, he once went into a tea house with his companions.  To preserve his anonymity, he took his turn at making and serving tea.  His companions were shocked by this great honor and want to kowtow, but were stopped by the emperor because he didn’t want to reveal his identity.  Instead, he told them to tap their fingers on the table, one finger representing their bowed heads and the others representing their prostrate arms.

The third story is about Ti Kuan Yin.  An old master told me this story in Hokkien, and frankly, it’s more funny in Hokkien, but hopefully you will still enjoy it.

There is a saying that you’ll spurt fire when you meet a good Ti Kuan Yin (TKY).  To illustrate this saying, one day, a mother sent her son out to buy some good TKY.  He left in the morning when the sun had just come up and after knocking on the door of a tea shop for several minutes, he was invited in by the bleary-eyed tea shop owner.  They tried some TKY, but it was not good enough to make him spurt fire; instead, he found he just got more and more hungry, so he went back home.  His mother had been to the farm and left him breakfast, so after breakfast and some rest, the son went out again and visited another tea shop.  There he drank several cups of good TKY, but once again, it was not good enough to make him spurt fire.  He left the shop hungry again and disappointed.  When he arrived home, he told his mother that he had not found any TKY that was good enough to make him spurt fire.  His mother made her son a delicious lunch and then brought him back to the first tea shop he had visited in the morning.  This time, after one sip of TKY, the son started to burp.  “Ah,” he said, “This is a good TKY.  Now I can spurt fire.  I finally found a good TKY.”