Popular Post abcdefg Posted September 2, 2015 at 01:40 AM Popular Post Report Share Posted September 2, 2015 at 01:40 AM I recently listened again to Laszlo Montgomery’s fine ten-part podcast on the history of Chinese tea. First listening was about three months back; this time through, I took notes. Thought it was excellent both times, but it contains so much information that I figured a short reference guide to the various parts might prove useful. Should probably admit up front as a disclaimer that I am not a real expert on this vast subject; my formal certification is at an intermediate level 中级。But I do know a few things about Chinese tea from personal experience, and have read several of the original source materials that he quotes. Also have read some other tea books that are not mentioned. One of the things I liked a lot is the way he gives a list of terms at the end of each podcast. For example, if you heard a place name fast, but didn’t 100% catch it, you can easily look here and find the Hanzi. You can also find proper names of the people he mentions. Additionally, he suggests some books, magazines and blogs as references. So here’s a chapter by chapter summary and listening guide. Please bear in mind that this is only a tiny fraction of the material he presented. Laszlo is a gifted storyteller by nature, and he weaves around in the material in such a way as to hold the listener’s interest. So the topics are not always crisply defined in a rigid sequence like they might be in dry, formal, strictly chronological history lectures. I have the greatest respect for Laszlo’s podcasts, not only these on tea, but also the others on Chinese history in general, and hope you will listen to them yourself as time permits. But if you want to skip around and check out certain parts of this tea series, maybe this guide will be of some help in doing that. Here's the link to get you started: http://chinahistorypodcast.com/chp-140-the-history-of-tea-part-1 Part 1 – “It always starts with one person who provides that spark that opens your eyes and leads you down the tea path.” He thus pays tribute to his mentor, a master named Wang Xufeng 王旭烽 from Hangzhou. I certainly agree with that sentiment, and have my own revered sources of inspiration here in Kunming. He introduces Lu Yu 陆羽, aka “the Tea Saint” or "Tea Sage," and his definitive book the Cha Jing 茶经。Also mentions 神农 Shen Nong, the “Divine Farmer” to whom much is attributed, part of it doubtless legend. He discusses how tea gradually evolved from a rather nasty tasting medicine into a refreshing treat and discusses how tea culture spread from China’s South (Yunnan and Sichuan) to its more Northern parts. (Not the other way around.) Part 2 – He focuses here on the 唐朝 Tang Dynasty, 7th to 9th century. Tea was still far from its final form, still supplied in bricks or cakes, not loose leaf. It was often still rather bitter, and therefore was frequently mixed with other ingredients, such as onion, ginger and orange to make it more palatable. Discussion of how the Grand Canal 大运河 or 汗垢 (?) and the Ancient Tea Horse Trail 茶马古道 helped in tea distribution. The “border tea” 边茶 that shipped to Tibet and Qinghai was far from prime stuff; once there, it was mixed with other ingredients, such as fat, salt and mare’s milk, to supply essential high plains nourishment. Talks a little about early teaware: namely white Xingware 邢窑 and celadon blue-green Yueware 越器. Europe had still not figured out porcelain, so it became a popular export item. Part 3 – Here he goes back to give more detail on Lu Yu and the Cha Jing since they are such important keys to the understanding of tea in its early years. Buddhists and Taoists were great proponents of tea, seeing it as part of a peaceful way of life. It also helped keep them from falling asleep during long meditations. Part 4 – Deals mainly with the Song 宋代。 Tea has hit the big time by now and become vastly popular all over China. It was still ground from cakes and “whisked up” for brewing, not used loose leaf. He talks about “tea preparation battles” 斗茶 in which emperors even sometimes took part. Tea became associated with poetry and music; it became a refined and genteel art. Talks a little about tea going to Japan, thanks to some Buddhist monks. Gives an introduction to Oolongs here as an important and widely-varied category of tea. They are partly fermented and immensely popular in Taiwan. Part 5 – Focuses on the Ming 明朝 but notes that the conquering Mongols didn’t care much about tea. Progress continued in Japan and Korea, but kind of stalled on the Chinese mainland after the Mongols came to power. But one important thing did happen, and that was that the processing of loose tea leaves becoming refined enough that they could be used to brew tea straightaway. This necessitated the development of teapots. So he discusses both Jingdezhen 景德镇 and Yixing 宜兴 as outstanding sources. Talks about the birth of the gongfu tea 功夫茶 ceremony, and what it entails. A few words about the advent of flower-scented teas, especially jasmine 茉莉花茶。 At the end of this part it seems he has attracted a sponsor – a chap who has done some photos of tea places in China, Taiwan and Japan. Plugs his book. Part 6 – Late Ming and Qing 清朝, in particular talks about how the West discovers tea with a bang in the 16th century. He discusses the lively tea trade which ensued, first to The Hague and then to Great Britain via fast clipper ships. A Fujian tea master brought cuttings to Taiwan, Lee Chun Sheng 李春生, and teamed up with a Mr. John Dodd, thus becoming the fathers of Taiwan tea. Part 7 – More late Ming and Qing, focusing on Europe’s love affair with Chinese tea. Discusses the history of the British East India Company and the part tea played in the revolt of the American colonies. He expands on the interesting premise that tea was a root cause of the Opium Wars. Black tea 红茶 became better known in China and sort of came of age; China had previously been the land of green tea; black tea was unknown or viewed with disdain. India attracted Britain’s eye as a possible alternative source of the precious leaves. Part 8 – Discusses the key role of Robert Fortune in breaking China’s 40-century monopoly on supplying tea to the rest of the world. (Quite a guy; quite a story; he is also the subject of another fine Laszlo podcast.) He managed to transport live tea seedlings to India after a couple of tries. It was a huge undertaking and shaped the face of the tea trade for many years to come, up to and including today. Part 9 – Live tea seedlings still had to be transported from the plains of Calcutta inland to the foothills of the Himalayas, places like Darjeeling and Assam. The planters managed, but not without struggle. Sir Thomas Lipton had a huge hand in converting Britain from a reliance on Chinese tea to leaf grown in Ceylon. Production methods and supply chains for new sources were much more efficient than those of yesterday. Left China behind in the dust; it never really recovered. At about the halfway point of Part 9, Laszlo undertakes a brief review of the whole subject. Then moves on to a discussion of Pu’er, since it is so different from other Chinese tea and such a huge topic all its own. (Personal note: One of my teachers, Professor Wang Deqing, famously confessed one afternoon “Once you’ve discoverd Pu’er, you can never go back.” He has written a couple of books about it. 王德清。) Part 10 – This part ties up loose ends and briefly mentions many famous teas plus some lesser known ones. It seems he wants to be sure he has at least touched on all the main imperial tribute teas. He discusses China’s various lists of “Top Ten” and the production of several lesser known provinces. Guizhou, for example, is the second largest producer of tea in all of China today, though you might not have guessed that. Much of this section is delivered at a very fast clip, and only serves to whet the listener’s appetite. All in all this series of podcasts is a splendid listen; covering the history of tea in China as well as containing selective mention of other parts of Asia. Highly recommended if you are interested in the subject. If you mainly want to know about one particular part, you can use this guide to go there first and then backtrack as needed. This is a long post, and I will stop here. Questions and comments welcome. I've sent a copy directly to Mr. Montgomery with my compliments and have asked that he kindly correct any glaring mistakes. 6 Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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