A Tea Addict's Journal

Reading old texts

February 1, 2008 · 5 Comments

I was reading, among other things, an old tea text by the Song Emperor Huizong called the Daguan Chalun (The Treatise on Tea in the Daguan Reign). That dates the text to 1107-1110. In it, he talks about making tea, processing tea, and brewing tea. Tea, of course, was not what we now know as tea. Back then, they were steamed, then pressed (to get juices out of the leaves…), roasted, and then eventually grounded and mixed with water to drink. Yet, it’s all very strange sounding. I was reading the text, and was having trouble figuring out exactly how the whole brewing process took place. It seems like you do have multiple infusions of the same tea, or, at least, add water multiple times during the process of brewing tea. I’m not exactly sure if before each additional water injection you drink the stuff you just made, or if you just keep making it until all the water’s added and drink in one go. That must be obvious to him, but not to me. Maybe I didn’t read the text carefully enough, I don’t know.

That would, I think, mean that it’s very different from how, say, Japanese matcha is made. So much is often made of how Japanese matcha is a direct descendent of Song period tea drinking, but the fact of the matter is that there’s almost nothing similar between Japanese matcha and Song tea, at least as described in the Daguan Chalun. While the tools used do sound more or less similar, with the use of a chawan, chasen, etc, the whole processing of the teas (they are steamed, pressed, and then roasted) and the way of making them (multiple infusions of water) don’t sound anything like what the Japanese would recognize as their matcha or tea ceremony. The steaming is ok, but roasted?

So perhaps next time somebody tell you that matcha is just like the way they made tea in the Song dynasty, you can tell them they’re wrong, because an Emperor of the Song said so (he was a very accomplished artist, poet, Daoist, painter…. but he did lose his country).

Categories: Old Xanga posts
Tagged: ,

5 responses so far ↓

  • babble // February 5, 2008 at 4:14 pm | Reply

    How does one acquire these texts? I wouldn’t mind reading them myself.

  • MarshalN // February 5, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Reply

    Do you need it in English, or is classical Chinese ok?  If you’re ok with classical Chinese, the version I’m looking at is a compendium of old tea texts published by the Chinese University of Hong Kong.  I can give you the exact reference.

    Other than the Tea Classic by Lu Yu, I don’t think they’re translated into English.

  • behhl // February 5, 2008 at 8:53 pm | Reply

    Previous explanations given that I’ve read was that the steamed tea process etc is as old as the 4th to 5th century China, and this type is tea is more typical carried down in tradition by the Tibetan and Mongolian tea making.

    It was thought that by the Song, which was already passed Luyu, the tea making had taken to the whipped tea fashion …. so, it is interesting to say the least – is it possible that the Daguan Chalun is not an authoratative text of the period? Communication being pretty bad in the ancient times there could have been pockets of local teamasters who adhere to one fashion of the other … just speculating.

    Could you post the book references and ISBN etc?

  • MarshalN // February 5, 2008 at 9:29 pm | Reply

    Um, tea in the Song was definitely steamed during the tea-producing process. 

    This was the Song emperor who was writing — if anybody in China at the time knew how everybody else made tea, he is it. 

    ISBN is 978 962 07 3153 2, the book’s name is 中國歷代茶書匯編, there are 2 volumes

  • behhl // February 6, 2008 at 4:20 am | Reply

    thanks – certainly an interesting contradiction to chew over – I’m beginning to wonder how their tea tasted like …

Leave a Comment