Tales of a Tea Leaf: The Complete Guide to Tea Cuisine

Tales of a Tea Leaf: The Complete Guide to Tea Cuisine

by Jill Yates

Tales of a Tea Leaf begins with a discussion of tea’s regal history, including its age-old relationship with rebels and smugglers. This is followed by a look at the many types of tea and brewing methods, the health benefits of the tea

leaf, and a collection of recipes for tempting tea beverages and other culinary creations. You don’t need to


Tales of a Tea Leaf begins with a discussion of tea’s regal history, including its age-old relationship with rebels and smugglers. This is followed by a look at the many types of tea and brewing methods, the health benefits of the tea

leaf, and a collection of recipes for tempting tea beverages and other culinary creations. You don’t need to be a tea lover to enjoy Tales of a Tea Leaf.

Editorial Reviews

Esra Magazine
"An account of tea's illustrious history as an integral part of both ancient ceremony and modern sophistication."

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Tales of a ... Tea Leaf

The Complete Guide to Tea Cuisine
By Jill Yates

Square One Publishers

Copyright © 2005 Jill Yates
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7570-0099-1

Chapter One

In the Beginning

Where there's tea there's hope. -SIR ARTHUR PINERO (1855-1934), BRITISH AUTHOR

So how did it all begin, this tale of the tea leaf? Tea's elusive past is steeped in stories, legends really, from the Far East where the stirring liquor of the leaves has seeped into the very fabric of society and created a culture that culminates in a cup. Often told, the rich accountings of emperors, spiritual leaders, kings, and queens represent the allure and lore that has accompanied tea, the world's most consumed beverage next to water, for nearly 5,000 years.

There are nearly 3,000 varieties of tea, but only one plant. Black, green, oolong, and white tea all come from the Camellia sinensis leaf, a white-flowering evergreen shrub originally found in China, Tibet, and northern India. Whether you prefer a flavorful Darjeeling from the foothills of the Himalayas, a smoky Chinese Lapsang Souchong, or rich, sweet Indian Chai, it is the cultivation and manufacture of this legendary leaf that results in your favorite type of tea (a subject explored in Chapters 3 and 4).


In the beginning, it is said the pleasure of drinking tea was discovered in2737 BCE. The legend is credited to the famous Chinese Emperor Shen Nong, acclaimed as the "Father of Chinese Medicine." As the story unfolds, Shen Nong is sitting by an open fire about to refresh himself with a cup of boiling water. Some say he was in his garden, others say he was traveling away from home, but most agree he was ahead of his time by recognizing the benefit of boiling water before drinking it. Leaves from a nearby bush blew into his kettle and he found the resulting brew soothing and pleasing to taste. Some attribute authorship of the ancient medical book, the Pen Ts'ao, to Shen Nong, in which tea is noted for its pleasurable and medicinal qualities, as it "gives one vigor of body, contentment of mind, and determination of purpose, when taken over a long period of time."

The much revered Japanese tea ceremony is linked to another story of tea's discovery. Bodhidharma, or Daruma as he is called in Japan, was a missionary Buddhist monk who traveled from his native India to China at the end of the fifth century. Upon arrival in the Far East, he is credited with founding the Zen school of Buddhism, known as Ch'an in China.

Zen teaches that through divine meditation supreme self-realization can be attained, and Bodhidharma's dedication to meditation is legendary. One story claims he meditated so long with his legs folded, he lost circulation and his legs fell off. But the most famous tale is told that in 520 CE he was determined to meditate in front of a wall for a period of nine years. After several years passed, fatigue overwhelmed him and he fell asleep. Bodhidharma was so troubled by his failure of allowing sleep to interfere with his meditation that he cut off the offending body parts-his eyelids. Where the eyelids fell, tea plants grew, thereby providing a refreshing and stimulating beverage used by worshipers to stay alert for centuries. In the highly esteemed The Book of Tea, author Kakuzo Okakura explains that later, Buddhist monks in Japan "gathering before his image drank tea out of a single bowl with profound formality of a holy sacrament. It was this Zen ritual which finally developed into the Tea Ceremony of Japan in the fifteenth century."

Legends are, well, legendary and inherently difficult to dispel, as each telling reinforces their place in history. But regarding the origin of tea, we do know the Camellia sinensis plant (from which all tea is derived) is native to China where, before it was cultivated to perfection, it grew wild on the mountainsides and in the valleys. So it is possible to imagine a leaf landing in Shen Nong's pot, bringing forth the pleasures of tea for all creation.


If we look to literature to answer the question of how the tale of tea began, it's about as clear as a fine cup of Darjeeling with just a bit of cream. Some scholars think its first mention could have been in the Chinese Book of Songs, written no later than the sixth century BCE. The Chinese character t'u appears throughout the book, and at that time it is believed one of the meanings for t'u was tea. Also, t'u, except for one stroke, is the same character for ch'a, which means tea today. The change from using the character ch'a in place of t'u appeared early in the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE). Because t'u was also used for other plants like sow thistle, it's a change that could have signaled tea's growing importance, requiring its own character.

Lu Yu, "God of Tea"

What is absolutely clear is that the Chinese poet, Lu Yu, changed the world's perception of tea and brought the process and pleasure of drinking tea to a national boil. He was born in the eighth century CE at a time when tea drinking was widespread, but people knew little about it. Tea merchants hired Lu Yu to write a practical guide for tea. It took him five years, but his three-part magnum opus Ch'a Ching, or The Classic of Tea, achieved a poetry of prose that had a profound effect on Eastern culture and remains in print today, over 1,200 years later. It was the first work to document, instruct, and describe the full cycle of tea from planting the seeds to pouring it from the pot. An orphan raised by Buddhist monks, Lu Yu left the monastery as an adult, but wrote of tea with a reverence for the subject and appreciation for the ceremony often attributed to his spiritual training.

The first part of Lu Yu's book discusses tea's beginnings and its manufacture. The second part educates the reader on the necessary "equipage" of tea, which uses not less than twenty-four tools that are required to prepare and brew tea:

However, when in the walled city at the gate of a Prince or Duke, if the twenty-four implements find their number diminished by only, then it is best to dispense with the tea.

In the third part, Lu Yu describes how to brew and drink tea, instructing his readers on the importance of moderation, "the very essence of tea," saying, "for exquisite freshness and vibrant fragrance, limit the number of cups to three. If one can be satisfied with less than perfection, five are permissible."

The publication of The Classic of Tea made Lu Yu a cultural icon. He was befriended by the emperor, revered by the people, and sacrifices were offered up to him as the god of tea. His work elevated tea to an art form associated with every aspect of Eastern existence. In fact, Taoists-followers of a Chinese philosophy originating in the sixth century BCE advocating simplicity and selflessness-describe tea as an "indispensable ingredient in the elixir of immortality."

Tea Arrives In Japan

Buddhist monks returning from study in China brought tea back to Japan as early as the eighth century. In 729 CE the Japanese Emperor Shomu is reported to have invited 100 Buddhist monks to his palace for tea. And when Buddhist monk Eisai returned from China in 1191 as a Zen master, he not only brought to Japan the new school of Buddhism, but also new tea seeds and the powdered form of tea (matcha) used in the Japanese tea ceremony. Eisai touted tea's spiritual, stimulating, and healing properties and later wrote Japan's first book on tea, Kissa Yojok (The Book of Tea Sanitation). Ceremonial teas remained in Japan's temples and lavish social teas remained in the grand parlors of the upper classes until Zen priest and tea master Murata Juko (Shuko) broke tradition by creating the beloved tea ceremony, which was adopted by the entire country.


The Japanese tea ceremony is chanoyu, which literally means "hot water for tea." Zen priest Murata Juko (1422-1502) is considered the father of the Japanese tea ceremony, as he combined the ritual preparation, service, and drinking of tea with a spiritual sense of humility and tranquility inspired by his Zen training. The resulting chado, or the Way of Tea, transformed the act of drinking tea into a sacred discipline. Juko moved the tea ceremony out of the majestic parlors and into an intimate, unadorned setting, thereby emphasizing the importance of inner wealth over outward riches. Seeking the essence of wabi, an important concept of Japanese aesthetics that includes elements of serenity and austerity, Juko created a tea ceremony with refined simplicity in which all participants are given equal respect-regardless of their social status. While tea master Takeno Joo (1502-1555) later expanded upon Juko's innovation by refining the wabi aesthetics of the ceremony, Joo is most noted for having taught his famous disciple, Sen no Rikyu.

Sen no Rikyu, Grand Tea Master

Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) was the greatest of all tea masters. Through a proficiency many practitioners would insist requires a lifetime to master, he refined the tea ceremony to its highest state of perfection. Guided by the four principles of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility, the spirit of Rikyu's tea ceremony teaches enlightenment through disciplined training in the tea ritual. In designing the first separate "teahouse," Rikyu used these principles to celebrate harmony with man and nature.

For example, the teahouse, a small, humble building, holds the tearoom, a place where every object has a purpose, no color or design is repeated, and no movement is wasted. The garden path that leads to the teahouse is a symbol of the path to enlightenment; the walk through the garden emphasizes man's unity with nature. The requirement that guests must then crawl through a small entrance door encourages humility and eliminates social status.

The great-grandson of Rikyu, Senso Soshitsu, practiced a tea ritual that developed into the Urasenke tradition of tea. The fourteenth-generation descendent of Rikyu, Grand Master Tantansai (Sekiso Soshitsu), established the Urasenke Foundation in 1949. It has since become one of the most popular traditions of tea in Japan and around the world. Sen Soshitsu XVI, the sixteenth-generation descendent of Sen no Rikyu, continues the practice of his ancestors as the grand tea master. He succeeded his father, Sen Soshitsu XV, in December 2002.


During Sen no Rikyu's lifetime, word of the East's devotion to tea reached Europe. The first mention of tea in the Western world was published in 1559 in Venice-the sixteenth-century center of trade between East and West. Referring to the numerous health benefits of Chai Catai (tea of China), Giambattista Ramusio, in Volume II of Navigatione et Viaggi, quotes the merchant Hajji Mohammed as saying "those people would gladly give a sack of rhubarb for one ounce of Chai Catai."

In 1597 tea is first mentioned in English, translated from the journal writings of Dutch navigator Jan Hugo van Lin-Schooten, who traveled to the East while sailing for the Portuguese. His enthusiastic reporting on the Japanese tea rituals, cherished utensils, and other items of wealth was the impetus for the Dutch to send merchant ships to the island of Java in Indonesia, where they set up headquarters for Asian trade.

About the time van Lin-Schooten was recording his observations on the importance of tea in Japanese culture, Catholic missionaries were working to bring the message of the Church to the Chinese. The Church's earlier success in China was wiped out when the Ming Dynasty took control in 1368. By the late 1500s, all the Catholic missions had disappeared and the Church had to start all over again.

The Chinese, distrustful of the European traders, restricted them to the trading ports in southern China. Catholic missionaries, however, were gradually allowed access inland where they developed closer relationships with the Chinese, learning about their customs, culture, and esteem for tea. Of the several missionaries who mentioned tea in their writings, Father Matteo Ricci was the most well known.

In his letters, Father Ricci credits the Chinese appreciation for tea to long life and good health. One can imagine the good Father sipping a cup of fine Chinese tea when he wrote the T'ien-chu-she-i (True Doctrine of God), which explains the essential doctrines of the faith and arguments of reason culled from Chinese writings and Christian philosophy and theology. Called "the manual of the missionaries," it brought respect and many converts to the Catholic faith in China and other Asian countries.

While the Catholic Church looked upon China and its people as a vast land of pagans to proselytize, much of the Western world was beating a path to its doorstep. But those Westerners did not want to aid in the salvation of souls; rather, they merely desired to reap profits from trading in Chinese silks, pottery, porcelain-and especially tea.

The Dutch Bring Tea to Europe

In 1602, the States-General of the Netherlands incorporated a collection of small trading companies to exact control over the Asian trade. They were given government powers to maintain and engage military force, enact justice, coin money, and establish treaties. The group was called Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (United East India Company), now known as the Dutch East India Company, or the VOC. It was a Dutch company merchant ship that brought the first tea from China and Japan to Europe in 1610. Tea's popularity grew slowly, as it was very expensive and originally looked upon as an exotic specialty drink for the rich. Tea was often served at high society tea parties in Holland where guests gorged themselves on sweet cakes, tobacco, and as much as fifty or more cups of tea.

The Dutch company was in business for nearly 200 years, with headquarters in the city of Batavia (Jakarta), Indonesia. In 1652, it also established Cape Colony on Table Bay, the first European settlement in South Africa located near present-day Cape Town. In 1669, at the peak of its power, the Dutch company had forty warships, 150 merchant ships, and 10,000 soldiers. The Dutch required such a force to keep up with its fiercest competitor, the English East India Company (see Chapter 2).

Tea Time for England

During the middle of the seventeenth century, tea was introduced in England, where it was received like a stray dog. The noble leaf was first admitted with hesitation, but gradually England's fondness for tea grew to the point where life couldn't be imagined without its warm and cheering influence. To the rest of the world, Britain's bond with tea is forever linked to its identity.

In 1657, the first establishment to sell tea in England was Thomas Garway's Coffeehouse in London. Twenty-two years later on March 11, 1679, the English East India Company began a long tradition of public tea auctions in London. London, once a critical center for the international tea trade, received shipments of tea leaves from around the world, packed in 100-pound wooden chests. Technology put an end to 319 years of tradition on June 29, 1998, when the final London tea auction was held. What once had lasted days, dwindled to hours, and finally ended after a mere 45 minutes of bidding. Jet planes, fax machines, and the internet revolutionized the tea business, allowing tea dealers to go right to the source or to auctions held near the world's major growing regions in Africa, India, China, and Sri Lanka. But I'm getting ahead of the story.

Shortly after the first public sale in London, tea experienced another step toward acceptance. A product is not truly Westernized until it is advertised, and such was the fate of tea when the first advertisement appeared on September 30, 1658, in London's Mercurius Politicus:

That excellent, and by all Physitians approved, China drink, called by the Chineans, Tcha, by other nations Tay alias Tee, is sold at the Sultaness-Head, a Cophee-house in Sweetings Rents, by the Royal Exchange, London.

While tea was found in popular seventeenth-century English coffeehouses, women were not. English coffeehouses were exclusively for men and became gathering places for a melting pot of ideas, but opening the doors to women was not one of them. One's choice of coffeehouse often reflected a man's character as well as his politics. At the height of the coffeehouse's popularity in London, King Charles II tried unsuccessfully to ban them, condemning them as outlets for treasonous activities. Meanwhile, tea was finding its place in popular society with the help of King Charles' wife, Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, whom he married in 1662. Interestingly, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the Orient by sea, and established a trading port with China years before the British or Dutch.


Excerpted from Tales of a ... Tea Leaf by Jill Yates Copyright © 2005 by Jill Yates. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Jill Yates, a graduate of Portland State University, has worked in area and event marketing, where she has written professionally for nearly twenty years. An avid tea drinker, Ms. Yates is also the author of Coffee Lover’s Bible.

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