When learning about tea history, it is impossible not to come across mention of Lu Yu, the “Sage of Tea” or “Patron Saint of Tea.” Lu Yu (733–804 ce) lived in China during the Tang Dynasty (618–907 ce) and wrote the breakout tea book “The Classic of Tea” (Cha Jing or Ch’a Ching). The Classic of Tea is considered the starting point for the history of tea itself, as there is extremely limited and spotty information about tea before this time. Lu Yu was an important historical figure, even at times elevated to the level of a deity, and is still a source of inspiration today.
His Life and Influences
Various accounts of Lu Yu’s life say that he was orphaned as a child and raised by a Buddhist monk.
“He rebelled against the monastic life and left before being ordained to join a theatrical troupe, becoming a popular circus clown and playwright (Koehler).”
Though not Buddhist himself, the Sage of Tea’s writing was apparently influenced by both his upbringing as well as Buddhist, Taoist, and other various associates. Certainly the religions and beliefs of the period during which he lived could not be separated from his life or writing style.
Statue of Lu Yu in Xi’an on the grounds of the Great Wild Goose Pagoda
“As for his work on tea, we also have to ask to what extent tea drinking was an element of practices of reclusion known to some Buddhist monks that was then perhaps aestheticized, popularized, and commodified by Lu Yu. … Lu Yu worked in a literary and cultural circle that was extremely productive in the realm of ideas; as we shall see, its members not only wrote poetry but were also involved in some of the major religious developments of the eighth century… (Benn).”
Originally published as ten chapters in three different volumes, The Classic of Tea was later combined into one book. The book covers everything from the plant itself, cultivation, and picking; to tools, water quality, and techniques. The final chapter is brief, and simply suggests transcribing the book onto attractive scrolls to hang for easy reference.
While I didn’t sit down and read the entire Classic of Tea from cover to cover in preparation of writing this, I did skim through. I found the details about tools from the Tang dynasty to be quite fascinating. I appreciated this wisdom from chapter six: “To quench thirst and dryness, water is imbibed; to alleviate sorrow and annoyance, wine is guzzled; to relieve fatigue and drowsiness, tea is sipped.” I also found chapter seven to be particularly interesting as it lists various mentions of tea in Chinese literature.
Benn, James A. Book. “Tea in China: A Religious and Cultural History.”
Koehler, Jeff. Article on NPR website. “Sip It Slowly, And Other Lessons From The Oldest Tea Book In The World.” (source)
Lu Yu. Book.“The Classic of Tea: The World’s First Treatise on Tea Culture.” 2019 English language version published in the United States of America by Sinomedia International Group, Long River Press.