Tea During The Tang Dynasty

In the early days, tea used to be consumed as a medicinal beverage. Tribes in the North Western regions of China boiled the tea until all the all flavour and nutritions were extracted. The resulting tea was bitter, and definitely not for pleasure. Instead, tea was seen as a practical drink that prevents one from different ailments and keeps one warm.

But tea became more than just that during the Tang Dynasty. Cultivation, production and trade flourished. As a result, tea-drinking surged in popularity. You couldn’t go anywhere in the capital of Chang’an without seeing tea: at the imperial court, in the monasteries, on the street… Everyone drinks tea: monks, poets and even the common people.

Why Tea Became Popular During The Tang?

There are several factors that allowed tea to go mass market. First of all the Tang dynasty was a relatively peaceful period. Emperors such as Taizong and Gaozong not only practiced the ‘Art of War’ but had plenty of time to practice the ‘Art of Tea’.

But it wasn’t only the emperors who loved tea. With the backing of the Monks and famous poets such as Lu Yu, it was just a matter of time for common people to start appreciating tea.

Tea and Chan Buddhism (Zen Buddhism)

Chan Buddhism flourished in Tang Dynasty. It requires days of meditation practice. The monks found tea very refreshing and useful. It helped them stay awake and get rid of distracting thoughts. Tea became their favourite drink. Most of the Chan Buddhist temples located in the mountains. These mountains had the right soil and temperature for growing tea. The monks started to grow and produce their own tea. They planted more and more tea trees around temples. They were among the earliest big scale tea growers in China. The monks set the tea-drinking trend. They also discovered new growing and roasting method that improved the taste of tea.

Lu Yu and The Classic of Tea

During the heyday of Tang Dynasty, Lu Yu grew up in a temple with a tea-loving adopter. He learned to cook and wrote the famous book on tea-The Classic of Tea (Cha Jing).

The book showed the whole tea-drinking procedure and methods. It also listed 28 tea utensils and 8 growing regions of tea at its time. It marked the birth of Chinese tea ceremony and set a model for the development of tea culture in later ages. With his contribution, Lu Yu deserved the name “Tea Saint”.

Also read the Full History of Tea in this article: History of Tea in China & How It Spread Across the World.

Tea Trade During The Tang Dynasty

Early in Tang Dynasty, Princess Wencheng got married to Tibetan King Songtsän Gampo and introduced tea to Tibet.

princess wen cheng tibet tang

The Tibetan people had a diet based on meat and dairy, tea was the best drink for the vitamins they lacked. Soon tea was high in demand. But high altitude and tough climate there made it hard for tea to grow. However, there were plenty of good Tibetan horses that inland market needed for the expanding army.

tea horse road map

With the surging tea production and the market for horses, inland tea merchants started to transport tea through some tough routes to Tibet, and exchanged it for Tibetan ponies back. This was called “tea-for-horse” trade, a big part of the Tea Horse Road history.

The Word ‘Tea’ During The Tang

Before Tang tea was called “tu” (荼). It means tea as well as bitter vegetable and one kind of weeds. As tea gained more and more popularity, people found the need to give tea a specific name. They took out one stroke of the character “tu”, and called it “cha”(茶). This character meant “tea” only. Lu Yu used “cha” in his The Classic of Tea (Cha Jing). Famous tea enthusiast and poet Lu Tong also used “cha” in many of his poems. Since then, “cha” was tea, and it lasted until today.

Teaware During Tang Dynasty

Teaware became a big part of tea culture during Tang. The ceramics industry’s rapid development resulting in teaware to become more affordable. Common families were now able to drink tea from ceramic tea cups and store tea in ceramic jars.

At that time, the two most famous styles of teaware were Xing ware from Hebei and Yue ware from Yuezhou. The first, was known for its clean white appearance, while latter was appreciated for its polished jade look.

This Massive Pu Erh Tea Needs a Sawing Machine To Slice

In the past transporting tea from Yunnan to neighbouring regions was a difficult task. Pu erh tea used to be compressed tightly in massive sizes for easy transportation. We discovered this cylinder shaped pu erh during a tea expo, and the merchant was selling them while demonstrating how he gets a slice of it with a sawing machine!

What is Chinese Yellow Rice Wine (Huang Jiu)

Forget beer and wine made from grapes. Bloomberg recently published an article that the growth of the booze market in China is slowing done. The demand for beer is even in decline. However, there’s one bright spot in the industry: traditional Chinese Yellow Rice wine, known in China as ‘Huang Jiu’.

Together with beer and red wine, huang Jiu is considered as 1 of the 3 biggest traditional liquors by the Chinese.

What about White Rice Wine (Bai Jiu)?

The market for white rice wine (Bai Jiu) is still much larger than yellow rice wine. Bai jiu is expensive and popular among Chinese generals and government officials, but China is cracking down on corruption and extravagance since 2014, resulting in lower demand.

Huang jiu on the other hand is seeing a strong growth. Chinese people have enjoyed strong economic growth in the past decade and as a result consuming more imported Western goods. However, many Chinese are also rediscovering their own background and rediscover traditional Chinese food and beverages.

Why Is Yellow Rice Wine Popular?

Different from white rice wine, the yellow cousin contains much less alcohol making it more suitable for a larger crowd. In addition, it’s highly nutritious containing 18 kinds of amino acids. A wine with so much nutritional value is what makes it attract a growing crowd.

How Is Yellow Rice Wine Made?

Yellow rice wine is brewed directly from rice. Sometimes millet or wheat could also be used as an alternative to rice. Unlike white rice wine, it’s not distilled and contains not more than 20% alcohol due to the inhibition of fermentation by ethanol at that concentration.

Yellow wine is pasteurised, aged, and filtered before they are finally bottled and sold. Depending on the variation in production, the final color could range from beige to reddish brown. Yellow wine is mainly classified by production regions, each with their own variation of production methods. See below the list:

  • 山东即墨老酒 – Shāndōng jímò lǎojiǔ
  • 江西吉安固江冬酒 – jiāngxi jí’ān gù jiāng dōng jiǔ
  • 无锡惠泉酒 – wúxī huì quán jiǔ
  • 绍兴状元红 – shàoxīng zhuàngyuán hóng
  • 绍兴女儿红 – shàoxīng nǚ’ér hóng
  • 张家港的沙洲优黄 – zhāngjiāgǎng de shāzhōu yōu huáng
  • 吴江的吴宫老酒 – wújiāng de wú gōng lǎojiǔ
  • 百花漾等桃源黄酒 – bǎihuā yàng děng táoyuán huángjiǔ
  • 上海老酒 – shànghǎi lǎojiǔ
  • 鹤壁豫鹤双黄 – hèbì yù hè shuāng huáng
  • 福建闽安老酒 – fújiàn mǐn ān lǎojiǔ
  • 江西九江封缸酒 – jiāngxi jiǔjiāng fēng gāng jiǔ
  • 江苏白蒲黄酒 – jiāngsū bái pú huángjiǔ
  • 江苏金坛和丹阳的封缸酒 – jiāngsū jīn tán hé dānyáng de fēng gāng jiǔ
  • 河南双黄酒 – hénán shuāng huángjiǔ
  • 广东客家娘酒 – guǎngdōng kèjiā niang jiǔ
  • 张家口北宗黄酒和绍兴加饭酒 – zhāngjiākǒu běi zōng huángjiǔ hé shàoxīng jiā fàn jiǔ
  • 广东珍珠红酒 – guǎngdōng zhēnzhū hóngjiǔ

Besides the region yellow wine is also classified as: dry, half dry, half sweet, sweet.

making yellow rice wine

How is Huang Jiu Consumed?

Huangjiu mainly consumed in Mainland China and Taiwan and consumed in different ways.

Warming Yellow Wine

While drinking yellow wine cold is still the most popular way to go, the traditional way of drinking yellow wine is actually by warming it until a perfect temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit). Drinking the wine warm is considered healthy for the stomach.

The older generations often drink the wine from a bowl instead of a glass or cup.

Enjoying yellow rice wine with food.
Enjoying yellow rice wine with food.

Drinking Yellow Wine Cold

Among younger people in China, Yellow wine is often drank cold. The wine is first refrigerated and then served with ice. Sometimes fresh fruits are added for additional taste.

Yellow Wine Pairing with Food

The Chinese love to pair yellow wine with dishes. Dry wines are paired with vegetables and cold appetizers. Semi-dry types are paired with red meat, crab and other seafood. Half-sweet types are paired with chicken and duck. At last, sweet-types are paired with desserts.

Yellow Wine for Cooking

In some regions Huang Jiu is also used for cooking traditional Chinese dishes. Popular dishes include huang jiu chicken soup and huang jiu steamed crab.

yellow wine jars

Canadian Tea Demand Gets Boost From Millennials

A recent report published by the Tea Association of Canada shows that there’s a brewing demand from millennials in Canada.

Who are they?

The fanatic brewing millennials are mostly based in Ontario and Western Canada. Surprisingly there’s only a slight majority of female tea drinkers (53%), while traditionally tea is more popular among women. What’s also interesting is that 44% of the millennial tea drinkers are parents and are part of a 3-4 person households. This suggest that parents tend to be more health conscious then non-parent millennials.

What Millennials Like

In the past there was still a preference for coffee over tea, but a mayor conclusion of the report is that they like tea and coffee equally. Millennials are curious and like to try new flavours. There’s a trending demand for loose leaf tea and tea infusers to brew them conveniently.

Reasons of Purchase

Tea is associated with many health perks including relaxation, improving sleep, reducing anxiety etc. While there’s a growing interest for artisan tea enjoyed for the flavour and aroma, buying tea for health benefits is still the major reason of purchase.

What Are They Drinking?

2 out of 3 millennials drink at least 1 cup of tea a week. This group accounts for 36% of all Canadian tea drinkers. However, they consume consume fewer cups per week (4.6 versus 6.1). This suggest that even though more millennials drink tea, they drink it less frequently.

Where Do They Buy Tea?

15% of the tea is purchased at specialty stores and this proportion is growing. However, still the majority of the tea is bought through grocery and mass merchandise stores (48%).

One major reason to visit specialty stores is because consumers want to explore new teas. Those millennials have a wide interest in variety, quality and expert advice. They also like the fact that they can sample small quantities and taste teas before buying. The best way to introduce teas to millennials is by introducing unique flavour and blends. It’s interesting to know that the brand of the tea is relatively unimportant when purchasing in specialty stores.

Why Expensive Teas are Expensive (And Cheap Teas are Cheap)

Does more expensive teas generally taste better? What are the factors behind the pricing of tea? With so many different teas available, and a wide range of prices, it’s worth to understand the pricing rationale, so that you can make a more informed buying decision.

1. Supply versus Demand
The most basic reason for prices to differ is how much demand there’s for a type of tea relative to how much supply available. Imagine there are two equally good teas, but one has only an annual supply of 100 KG while the other has a much larger annual production of 10.000 KG.

The farmer of the 100 KG tea will tend to keep the price high, to maximise it’s sales. The other farmer faces risks of not being able to sell out his stock, and will keep lowering the price to increase the sales.

This at the same time proofs more expensive teas aren’t necessarily better. Supply and demand dynamics are very obvious in reality, with seasonal weather being on of the most important factors affecting supply. Too many consecutive days of rain or drought can ruin a harvest.

This is also a reason why agricultural insurance is on the rise in China.

Trends also affect the demand of a specific product at a specific point in time. In 2015, there’s was a new research publication backing the health benefits of Honeysuckle tea. At that time, the demand suddenly surged drastically. Because the producers were short of stock, they increased their prices.

2. Brand
Now imagine that there are two equally good teas with equal supply conditions.​ However, now one is offered by a company with a strong brand, while the other doesn’t come with any brand at all. The first will come with a higher price, because the customer sees value in the brand. It could be that the brand offers stable quality and thus piece of mind. Others offer a complete experience, such as an environment that allows them to enjoy consuming the product. Starbucks is a very good example from the coffee industry.

In addition, companies invest in their brand by incurring for example overhead and marketing costs. These costs needs to be recovered, resulting in markups on the retail price.

3. Packaging
Related to the brand is packaging. Packaging add value in several ways. A tea bag can be considered convenient packaging, as it makes the preparation of tea easier compared to loose leaf tea. Packaging can also keep teas fresh. Take for example, pouches with zip closure that can help to keep your tea fresh. Or tea in tins, that are more suitable as a gift.

4. Age
For some teas, especially pu erh, the age also affects the price. For those teas, the ripening process result in a better flavour and aroma.

Assume there are 2 tea cakes made from the same quality of raw material and from the same origin. However, one cake is 10 years old while the other is just 1 year old. The older cake will be much more expensive. A pu erh tea lover will be willing to spend more money on the 10 year cake, simply because when buys the 1 year cake, he’ll have to wait another 9 years before he can enjoy the same taste. Thus, saving time can be seen as valuable.

5. Storage Conditions
When tea is harvested, it might not be all sold directly. When tea is stored properly, the quality can be kept fresh, and thus sold for a better price in the future. Coming back to the pu erh cakes, this becomes even more important. Cakes that are preserved in the right conditions, ripen and develop a better flavour, making them more valuable.

Do you know any more factors? Feel free to leave your ideas in the comment section below!