Monday, August 27, 2007

Tea Lore and Legends

I am currently reading "The Chinese Art of Tea" by John Blofeld, and thought I would share some excerpts on the ancient lore that surrounds our beloved plant.

On Tie Kuan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) tea:
"Its name points to its having first been grown in the vicinity of a temple dedicated to Kuan-Yin. It is said that a Mr. Wei, a tea grower resident in Sand County, used to pass this temple on his way home from work and was shocked by its dilapidated condition. He could not afford the cost of repairing it, but used to go in to burn incense on the first and fifteenth of each lunar month, sweep the halls thoroughly and clean the statues. One night Kuan-Yin appeared to him in a dream and said: 'In a cave behind this temple is a treasure that will last you for generations, but be sure to share it generously with your neighbours.'

Next day, though he diligently searched for the treasure, all he found was a tiny tea shoot. Disappointed, he nevertheless planted it in his garden and tended it well so that within two years it had become a shrub which yielded a catty (1 1/3 lb) of tea. Brewing some in a lidded bowl, he noticed that an unusual fragrance filled the room and that the flavour remained pure and strong after several additions of water. With mounting enthusiasm he took great pains, and within a few years the original tree had fathered two hundred trees and shrubs.

When the merchants who bought the first crop asked the name of the tea, he said: 'We must call it Kuan-Yin tea.' 'On account of the iron statue of Kuan-Yin in that old temple?' they asked. 'Just so,' he replied. As the name is a good one, it has never been changed. Growing more prosperous, Wei repaired the temple and images, and willingly gave away tea seed to his neighbours so all of them became well-to-do."

On Long Jing (Dragon's Well) tea:
"Around the year AD 250, so runs the story, a Taoist affirmed that there must be a dragon lurking in a certain spring not far from Hangchow. Having made this discovery at a time when the farmers had long been praying for rain, he implored the well dragon to come to their rescue. Instantly, clouds came rushing in from every side and poured forth timely rain. On this account the name of an old temple adjoining the spring is known as Dragon's Well Monastery, and the tea derives its name from the same legend.

Another source relates that a poor widow living in that particular vicinity owned a few tea trees and used their produce to brew tea for peasants harvesting tea nearby. One day a rich merchant, hearing of her kindness, remarked, 'A good-hearted woman like you deserves to be wealthy.' 'I am lucky not to starve,' she answered, smiling. Glancing round, he noticed a large stone mortar which happened to be full of leaves deposited by neighbouring tea trees over the years. 'Want to sell that old mortar?' he asked. 'If so, I'll come back and cart it off tomorrow.' She took the money offered, so the next morning he came back with some workmen to cart it away. To his surprise, the shabby old mortar had been swept and scoured. 'You can see I've made it nice for you,' smiled the old woman. 'All those leaves came in handy to manure my tea trees.' Heaven had clearly rewarded her charitableness by endowing the leaf mould with miraculous properties, for not long afterwards her eighteen tea trees put forth jade-green leaves the like of which had never before been seen. Such, according to this alternative account, was the origin of Dragon's Well tea. It is said that the old woman prospered greatly.

Those well acquainted with the kind of tea affirm that it achieved the utmost perfection when prepared with clear water from Tiger-Run Spring, which 'miraculously' appeared close to a temple not far from the tea garden. During the reign of the T'ang Emperor Yuan Ho (806-821) there was another terrible drought, and once again the people of Hangchow prayed vainly to the gods for rain. One day Abbot Hsing K'ung saw two tigers rush out from the nearby forest and start running to and fro in the temple grounds. Suddenly water began bubbling up from the ground trodden by their feet. From that day to this the spring has never run dry. Its water is marvellously clear, and when used to brew Dragon's Well tea the infusion looks like liquid jade besides giving forth a delicious fragrance the lingers on the palate. As a Ming visitor remarked centuries later: 'I'd love to be a monk living here always with such tea and such water for companions!'"

And finally, a lesson drawn from Korean tea history:
"According to the Venerable Popchong Sunim:
To determine whether a tea is good or not, one should examine the colour, scent and taste of the infusion. The perfect colour is that of the first leaves in spring; the scent is like that of a young baby. The taste cannot be described but can be appreciated with experience. Tea is drunk to quench the thirst, savour the taste, or simply to spend a quiet hour appreciating the pottery and the general atmosphere that accompanies tea drinking. There is no need to have a special attitude while drinking it, except one of thankfulness. The nature of the tea itself is that of no-mind. It does not discriminate or make differences. It just is."

1 comment:

will said...

Does "The Chinese Art of Tea" have any information on Pu-erh teas. I'm trying to learn all I can.