The First Book of Tea

Lu YuIt was not until A.D. 780 that the horticultural and other aspects of tea-growing were first published in a work exclusively devoted to tea.  At the request of the tea merchants, The Ch’a Ching (Tea Book) appeared. It was written by Lu Yu, a noted Chinese author and tea expert.

In an allegory, the book quotes one of the emperors of the Han dynasty as saying:

“The use of tea grows upon me surprisingly; I know not how it is, but my fancy is awakened and my spirits exhilarated as if with wine.”

This makes it evident that tea as a drink had progressed in Lu Yu’s time from the earlier rank decoction of unprepared green tea leaves to a more inviting infusion. With methods of improving the leaf came better quality in the drink as a beverage, making the use of certain ingredients, such as spices, no longer necessary for improving its flavor.

During the greater part of the time that the cultivation of tea was spreading through China, such meager knowledge as existed regarding its culture and manufacture was disseminated almost entirely by word of mouth. While some slight mention of tea had been made in contemporary writings, most of these references to tea were fragmentary and could furnish little or no practical guidance to the agriculturist.Classic of Tea manuscript

Early Chinese agriculturists were heavily indebted to Lu Yu. And if their debt was heavy, how much more so is the debt which all the world owes! But for the knowledge imparted by the Ch’a Ching concerning the cultivation and manufacture of tea, the world might have remained in ignorance of the joys of tea-drinking.

For it must be remembered that tea, then as precious as rubies, was not a subject to be lightly discussed with foreigners, nor were the secrets of its growth and preparation to be disclosed. Yet disclosed they were, for the Ch’a Ching opened the closely guarded mystery to the prying Westerners, such as the British East India Company. Lu Yu had revealed a secret that would eventually make a splash in shallow waters of Boston Harbor.