by Kakuzo Okakura
Tea is a work of art and needs a master hand to bring out its
noblest qualities. We have good and bad tea, as we have good
and bad paintings - generally the latter. There is no single
recipe for making the perfect tea, as there are no rules for
producing a Titian or a Sesson. Each preparation of the leaves
has its individuality, its special affinity with water and heat,
its own method of telling a story. The truly beautiful must
always be in it. How much do we not suffer through the constant
failure of society to recognise this simple and fundamental
law of art and life; Lichilai, a Sung poet, has sadly remarked
that there were three most deplorable things in the world: the
spoiling of fine youths through false education, the degradation
of fine art through vulgar admiration, and the utter waste of
fine tea through incompetent manipulation.
Like Art, Tea has its periods and its schools. Its evolution
may be roughly divided into three main stages: the Boiled Tea,
the Whipped Tea, and the Steeped Tea. We moderns belong
to the last school. These several methods of appreciating
the beverage are indicative of the spirit of the age in which
they prevailed. For life is an expression, our unconscious
actions the constant betrayal of our innermost thought.
Confucius said that "man hideth not." Perhaps we reveal ourselves
too much in small things because we have so little of the great
to conceal. The tiny incidents of daily routine are as much a
commentary of racial ideals as the highest flight of philosophy
or poetry. Even as the difference in favorite vintage marks
the separate idiosyncrasies of different periods and nationalities
of Europe, so the Tea-ideals characterise the various moods
of Oriental culture. The Cake-tea which was boiled, the
Powdered-tea which was whipped, the Leaf-tea which was
steeped, mark the distinct emotional impulses of the Tang,
the Sung, and the Ming dynasties of China. If we were
inclined to borrow the much-abused terminology of
art-classification, we might designate them respectively, the
Classic, the Romantic, and the Naturalistic schools of Tea.
The tea-plant, a native of southern China, was known from very
early times to Chinese botany and medicine. It is alluded to in
the classics under the various names of Tou, Tseh, Chung,
Kha, and Ming, and was highly prized for possessing the
virtues of relieving fatigue, delighting the soul, strengthening
the will, and repairing the eyesight. It was not only
administered as an internal dose, but often applied externally
in form of paste to alleviate rheumatic pains. The Taoists
claimed it as an important ingredient of the elixir of
immortality. The Buddhists used it extensively to prevent
drowsiness during their long hours of meditation.
By the fourth and fifth centuries Tea became a favourite
beverage among the inhabitants of the Yangtse-Kiang valley.
It was about this time that modern ideograph Cha was
coined, evidently a corruption of the classic Tou.
The poets of the southern dynasties have left some fragments
of their fervent adoration of the "froth of the liquid jade."
Then emperors used to bestow some rare preparation of the
leaves on their high ministers as a reward for eminent services.
Yet the method of drinking tea at this stage was primitive
in the extreme. The leaves were steamed, crushed in a mortar,
made into a cake, and boiled together with rice, ginger, salt,
orange peel, spices, milk, and sometimes with onions!
The custom obtains at the present day among the Thibetans
and various Mongolian tribes, who make a curious syrup
of these ingredients. The use of lemon slices by the Russians,
who learned to take tea from the Chinese caravansaries,
points to the survival of the ancient method.
It needed the genius of the Tang dynasty to emancipate Tea
from its crude state and lead to its final idealization. With
Luwuh in the middle of the eighth century we have our first
apostle of tea. He was born in an age when Buddhism,
Taoism, and Confucianism were seeking mutual synthesis.
The pantheistic symbolism of the time was urging one to
mirror the Universal in the Particular. Luwuh, a poet, saw in
the Tea-service the same harmony and order which reigned
through all things. In his celebrated work, the "Chaking"
(The Holy Scripture of Tea) he formulated the Code of Tea.
He has since been worshipped as the tutelary god of the
Chinese tea merchants.
The "Chaking" consists of three volumes and ten chapters.
In the first chapter Luwuh treats of the nature of the tea-plant,
in the second of the implements for gathering the leaves, in the
third of the selection of the leaves. According to him the best
quality of the leaves must have "creases like the leathern boot of
Tartar horsemen, curl like the dewlap of a mighty bullock, unfold
like a mist rising out of a ravine, gleam like a lake touched by
a zephyr, and be wet and soft like fine earth newly swept by rain."
The fourth chapter is devoted to the enumeration and description
of the twenty-four members of the tea-equipage, beginning
with the tripod brazier and ending with the bamboo cabinet for
containing all these utensils. Here we notice Luwuh's
predilection for Taoist symbolism. Also it is interesting to
observe in this connection the influence of tea on Chinese
ceramics. The Celestial porcelain, as is well known, had its
origin in an attempt to reproduce the exquisite shade of jade,
resulting, in the Tang dynasty, in the blue glaze of the south,
and the white glaze of the north. Luwuh considered the blue
as the ideal colour for the tea-cup, as it lent additional greenness
to the beverage, whereas the white made it look pinkish and
distasteful. It was because he used cake-tea. Later on, when
the tea masters of Sung took to the powdered tea, they preferred
heavy bowls of blue-black and dark brown. The Mings, with
their steeped tea, rejoiced in light ware of white porcelain.
In the fifth chapter Luwuh describes the method of making tea.
He eliminates all ingredients except salt. He dwells also on the
much-discussed question of the choice of water and the degree
of boiling it. According to him, the mountain spring is the best,
the river water and the spring water come next in the order of
excellence. There are three stages of boiling: the first boil is
when the little bubbles like the eye of fishes swim on the surface;
the second boil is when the bubbles are like crystal beads rolling
in a fountain; the third boil is when the billows surge wildly in
the kettle. The Cake-tea is roasted before the fire until it becomes
soft like a baby's arm and is shredded into powder between pieces
of fine paper. Salt is put in the first boil, the tea in the second.
At the third boil, a dipperful of cold water is poured into the
kettle to settle the tea and revive the "youth of the water." Then
the beverage was poured into cups and drunk. O nectar! The
filmy leaflet hung like scaly clouds in a serene sky or floated like
waterlilies on emerald streams. It was of such a beverage that
Lotung, a Tang poet, wrote: "The first cup moistens my lips and
throat, the second cup breaks my loneliness, the third cup
searches my barren entrail but to find therein some five thousand
volumes of odd ideographs. The fourth cup raises a slight
perspiration, - all the wrong of life passes away through my
pores. At the fifth cup I am purified; the sixth cup calls me
to the realms of the immortals. The seventh cup--ah, but I
could take no more! I only feel the breath of cool wind that
rises in my sleeves. Where is Horaisan? Let me ride on this
sweet breeze and waft away thither."
The remaining chapters of the "Chaking" treat of the vulgarity
of the ordinary methods of tea-drinking, a historical summary
of illustrious tea-drinkers, the famous tea plantations of
China, the possible variations of the tea-service and illustrations
of the tea-utensils. The last is unfortunately lost.
The appearance of the "Chaking" must have created
considerable sensation at the time. Luwuh was befriended
by the Emperor Taisung (763-779), and his fame attracted
many followers. Some exquisites were said to have been able
to detect the tea made by Luwuh from that of his disciples.
One mandarin has his name immortalised by his failure to
appreciate the tea of this great master.
In the Sung dynasty the whipped tea came into fashion and
created the second school of Tea. The leaves were ground
to fine powder in a small stone mill, and the preparation was
whipped in hot water by a delicate whisk made of split bamboo.
The new process led to some change in the tea-equippage of
Luwuh, as well as in the choice of leaves. Salt was discarded
forever. The enthusiasm of the Sung people for tea knew no
bounds. Epicures vied with each other in discovering new
varieties, and regular tournaments were held to decide their
superiority. The Emperor Kiasung (1101-1124), who was too
great an artist to be a well-behaved monarch, lavished his
treasures on the attainment of rare species. He himself wrote
a dissertation on the twenty kinds of tea, among which he prizes
the "white tea" as of the rarest and finest quality.
The tea-ideal of the Sungs differed from the Tangs even as their
notion of life differed. They sought to actualize what their
predecessors tried to symbolise. To the Neo-Confucian mind
the cosmic law was not reflected in the phenomenal world,
but the phenomenal world was the cosmic law itself. Aeons
were but moments - Nirvana always within grasp. The Taoist
conception that immortality lay in the eternal change permeated
all their modes of thought. It was the process, not the deed, which
was interesting. It was the completing, not the completion,
which was really vital. Man came thus at once face to face
with nature. A new meaning grew into the art of life. The
tea began to be not a poetical pastime, but one of the methods
of self-realisation. Wangyucheng eulogised tea as "flooding
his soul like a direct appeal, that its delicate bitterness reminded
him of the aftertaste of a good counsel." Sotumpa wrote of
the strength of the immaculate purity in tea which defied
corruption as a truly virtuous man. Among the Buddhists,
the southern Zen sect, which incorporated so much of
Taoist doctrines, formulated an elaborate ritual of tea. The
monks gathered before the image of Bodhi Dharma and drank
tea out of a single bowl with the profound formality of a
holy sacrament. It was this Zen ritual which finally developed
into the Tea-ceremony of Japan in the fifteenth century.
Unfortunately the sudden outburst of the Mongol tribes in the
thirteenth century which resulted in the devastation and conquest
of China under the barbaric rule of the Yuen Emperors,
destroyed all the fruits of Sung culture. The native dynasty of
the Mings which attempted re-nationalisation in the middle
of the fifteenth century was harassed by internal troubles, and
China again fell under the alien rule of the Manchus in the
seventeenth century. Manners and customs changed to
leave no vestige of the former times. The powdered tea is
entirely forgotten. We find a Ming commentator at loss to
recall the shape of the tea whisk mentioned in one of the
Sung classics. Tea is now taken by steeping the leaves in
hot water in a bowl or cup. The reason why the Western
world is innocent of the older method of drinking tea is
explained by the fact that Europe knew it only at the close
of the Ming dynasty.
To the latter-day Chinese tea is a delicious beverage, but
not an ideal. The long woes of his country have robbed
him of the zest for the meaning of life. He has become
modern, that is to say, old and disenchanted. He has lost
that sublime faith in illusions which constitutes the eternal
youth and vigour of the poets and ancients. He is an
eclectic and politely accepts the traditions of the universe.
He toys with Nature, but does not condescend to conquer
or worship her. His Leaf-tea is often wonderful with its
flower-like aroma, but the romance of the Tang and Sung
ceremonials are not to be found in his cup.
Japan, which followed closely on the footsteps of Chinese
civilisation, has known the tea in all its three stages. As
early as the year 729 we read of the Emperor Shomu giving
tea to one hundred monks at his palace in Nara. The leaves
were probably imported by our ambassadors to the Tang Court
and prepared in the way then in fashion. In 801 the monk
Saicho brought back some seeds and planted them in Yeisan.
Many tea-gardens are heard of in succeeding centuries, as
well as the delight of the aristocracy and priesthood in the
beverage. The Sung tea reached us in 1191 with the return
of Yeisai-zenji, who went there to study the southern Zen
school. The new seeds which he carried home were successfully
planted in three places, one of which, the Uji district near
Kioto, bears still the name of producing the best tea in the
world. The southern Zen spread with marvellous rapidity, and
with it the tea-ritual and the tea-ideal of the Sung. By the
fifteenth century, under the patronage of the Shogun,
Ashikaga-Voshinasa, the tea ceremony is fully constituted
and made into an independent and secular performance.
Since then Teaism is fully established in Japan. The use
of the steeped tea of the later China is comparatively
recent among us, being only known since the middle of the
seventeenth century. It has replaced the powdered tea in
ordinary consumption, though the latter still continues to
hold its place as the tea of teas.
It is in the Japanese tea ceremony that we see the culmination
of tea-ideals. Our successful resistance of the Mongol
invasion in 1281 had enabled us to carry on the Sung movement
so disastrously cut off in China itself through the nomadic
inroad. Tea with us became more than an idealisation of
the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life. The
beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity
and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and
guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost
beatitude of the mundane. The tea-room was an oasis
in the dreary waste of existence where weary travellers
could meet to drink from the common spring of art-
appreciation. The ceremony was an improvised drama
whose plot was woven about the tea, the flowers, and
the paintings. Not a colour to disturb the tone of the
room, not a sound to mar the rhythm of things, not a
gesture to obtrude on the harmony, not a word to break
the unity of the surroundings, all movements to be performed
simply and naturally - such were the aims of the tea-
ceremony. And strangely enough it was often successful.
A subtle philosophy lay behind it all. Teaism was Taoism
by Kakuzo Okakura
The Book of Tea was published in 1906 and is now in the public domain.
- The Cup of Humanity
- The Schools of Tea
- Taoism and Zennism
- The Tea-Room
- Art Appreciation
The text as it appears here was originally taken from http://www.teatime.com/tea/TheBookOfTea/, but this has since disappeared.
The book can also be found at http://hjem.get2net.dk/bnielsen/teatbot.html among other places.
Hardlinks are Oolong's.