The Classic of Tea

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Tea's popularity during the Tang dynasty was reflected by the imposition of the first tax on tea in 780, and by the success of a book published the same year: The Classic of Tea, written by Lu Yu, a celebrated Taoist poet. Written at the behest of the merchants who sold tea, it describes the cultivation, preparation, and serving of tea in great detail. Lu Yu wrote many more books about tea, no aspect of which escaped his gaze. He described the merits of the various kinds of leaves, the best sort of water to use in its preparation (ideally, from slow-flowing mountain streams; well water only if no other available), and even enumerated the stages in the process of boiling water:"When the water is boiling, it must look like fishes' eyes and give off but the hint of a sound. When at the edges it clatters like a bubbling spring and looks like pearls innumerable strung together, it has reached the second stage. When it leaps like breakers majestic resounds like a swelling wave, it is at its peak. Any more and the water will be boiled out and should not be used." Lu Yu's palette was so sensitive that he was said to be able to identify the source of water from its tastes alone, and even to determine the part of the river from which it had been drawn. More than anyone else, Lu Yu transformed tea from a mere thirst-quenching drink to a symbol of cultural sophistication. Tea tasting and appreciation, particularly the ability to recognize different types, became highly regarded. Making tea became an honour reserved for the head of the household; an inability to make tea well, in an elegant manner, was considered a disgrace. Drinking parties and banquets centred on tea became popular at the court, where the emperor drank special teas made with water transported from particular springs. This led to the tradition of presenting special "tribute teas" to the emperor every year.

- pp, 180-181 A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage (2005)

Lu Yu