ㄑ China Voices

Fragrance of Chinese tea transcends time and space

China is known as the hometown of tea. For thousands of years, tea has been deeply rooted in Chinese culture and has been an integral part of Chinese people's daily life.

XinhuaUpdated:  November 30, 2022

China is known as the hometown of tea. For thousands of years, tea has been deeply rooted in Chinese culture and has been an integral part of Chinese people's daily life.

It is believed that the tea culture spread throughout China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The Classic of Tea, by Tang scholar Lu Yu in the 8th century, is the first treatise in China in which knowledge of tea and related practices were elaborated systematically.

The Famen Temple, in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, was once the imperial temple of the Tang Dynasty. Archaeologists in 1987 unearthed the earliest and highest-ranking Tang imperial tea set discovered so far from the underground palace of the temple.

"The tea set found here is an important testimony to the Chinese tea culture," said Jiang Jie, a researcher with the Famen Temple Museum.

"The imperial family also started to use tea for sacrifice and toasting, and tea gained a wide popularity in the Tang Dynasty," said Jiang.

The tea culture flourished in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) when specialized tea-tasting clubs were established, and tea contests came into fashion among men of letters.

Throughout history, tea has been deeply integrated into Chinese traditional culture through literature, art, religion, and other ways.

Today, tea is ubiquitous in Chinese people's daily life, as steeped or boiled tea is served in families, workplaces, and restaurants, to name a few. As the Chinese saying goes, "firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce, vinegar, and tea" are seven daily necessities in the household.

Tea is an important part of socialization and of ceremonies such as weddings and sacrifices. The practice of greeting guests and building relationships within families and among neighbours through tea-related activities is common to multiple ethnic groups.

China's tea producers have developed six categories of tea: green, yellow, dark, white, oolong, and black teas. Together with reprocessed teas, such as flower-scented teas, there are over 2,000 tea products in China.

China's total domestic tea sales in 2021 exceeded 2.3 million tonnes and 300 billion yuan (42 billion U.S. dollars), according to data from the China Tea Marketing Association.

Currently, more than 40 vocational schools and over 80 colleges have launched tea and tea culture-related majors, and more than 3,000 professionals in tea making and tea art are trained every year, said Wang Chenyang, director of the intangible cultural heritage department of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

While the age-old tradition of tea has been well-cherished by the Chinese, innovation is injecting new life into the tea industry.

During the past decades, milk tea, especially bubble milk tea, has been a popular drink among young Chinese. In recent years, amid consumption upgrading, there has been a boom in "new tea beverages" that combine brewed tea, fresh fruits and vegetables, and are sometimes laced with dairy products or juice, which are particularly sought-after among young people.

According to data from iMedia Research, the market scale of China's tea-based drinks exceeded 279 billion yuan in 2021 and is estimated to reach about 375 billion yuan by 2025.

From a global perspective, tea has been a bridge connecting China and the world. It was once an important commodity on the ancient Silk Road and the ancient Tea Horse Road, and today, China is a major tea exporter in the world.

On Tuesday, China's traditional tea-making was added to the intangible cultural heritage list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a milestone for the global recognition of China's tea culture.

"The successful inclusion into the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list has further highlighted the important contribution that the Chinese culture has made to the diversity of human civilizations," Wang Chenyang said.

"Chinese people believe that tea reflects the values of modesty, harmony, comity, and respect," said Xiao Fang, a professor at Beijing Normal University. The newly recognized world cultural heritage will help introduce such Chinese wisdom and philosophy to more people in the world.