Chinese tea comes in a huge range of varieties. To simplify matters, modern methods classify it into six main types according to the way it is processed, namely green tea, black tea, oolong tea, white tea, yellow tea and pu'er tea. Within each of these types different varieties are based on areas of production, quality and curing. Products of each variety are further classified according to grade.
Running until April 1 next year at the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware, the exhibition "A Date with Chinese Tea" showcases different types of tea along with artefacts and historical backgrounds to the practice of tea drinking. Legendary stories and relics related to tea can also be found in the exhibition, including those concerning the Tang dynasty's ancient Tea Horse Road, tea drinking customs in Britain and Hong Kong's unique tea culture. Passing through the exhibition's various sections, visitors will be able to get in touch with unique tea cultures of different places and times.
To ensure that visitors of all ages can enjoy a wonderful experience, education corners and various interactive games have been set up at the exhibition.
Tea is indigenous to China, the earliest nation to discover and drink tea. It is written in the "Classic of Tea" by Lu Yu that, "The tea drinking tradition began with Shen Nong and was actively developed by the Duke of Zhou." It is said that Shen Nong, the God of Medicine who tasted all herbs, was poisoned by about 70 different plants every day. He relied on tea to neutralise the toxins.
Tea and horse trading along the Ancient Tea Horse Road first originated in the Tang dynasty (618-907), became established during the Song dynasty (960-1279), prospered during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and ended during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The road stretched from south to north and passed through plateaus and mountainous regions from Lhasa in Tibet to the passes of the Himalayas and on to Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal and Calcutta in India. In all it reached from west Asia to the shore of the Red Sea in west Africa and was a gateway to trade and exchange in both directions.
In the early 16th century, the Portuguese pioneered a sea route to the East, passing the Cape of Good Hope, and by the 17th century vast quantities of Chinese tea were being imported to the West. Tea drinking gradually came into vogue in Portugal, Holland, France and England. Chinese green tea was the first tea exported to the West, though its freshness and taste were adversely affected by the long sea voyages. Consequently, the Chinese improved the production process and invented black tea, a fully fermented tea which could endure a longer duration of shipment. By the 18th century, black tea had acquired its position as a national drink in Britain.
As tea drinking became more popular, an embryonic form of teahouse came into existence early in the Eastern Jin during the reign of Emperor Yuan (317-322). Tea plants were cultivated during the Tang dynasty and the popularity of tea drinking precipitated the initiation of teahouses. Teahouses continued to develop throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties. Apart from being a place for eating and tea tasting, they were ideal venues for relaxation, amusement, chatting with friends and exchanging news. Teahouses became central to the people's social life. Imbued with various social functions and cultural activities, teahouses are still regarded as a symbol of civilisation by the Chinese people.
The southern regions of China including Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Xiamen, are major import and export centres for the tea trade. The cultivation and consumption of tea are also very popular in the southern regions. Their teahouses are known as "chalou" and special emphasis is placed on catering for the custom of drinking morning tea with varieties of dim sum (at least two types of food accompanied by tea). Tea was initially popular in the Pearl River Delta area and, under the influence of Guangzhou's teahouse culture, Chinese teahouses ("chalou") became set up in Hong Kong. Nowadays, Chinese teahouses are still popular in Hong Kong and have become part of our daily life.
In Hong Kong, "yuanyang" is a colloquial term applied to a locally invented beverage, and it also represents Hong Kong's unique blending of the cultures of East and West. This beverage is a harmonious blending of black tea (originating in China and since superseded by black tea grown in Ceylon) with milk (a Western style of tea drinking) and the addition of coffee (originating from Africa). It is also a symbol of Hong Kong's status as a cosmopolitan world city, a vibrant mix of different languages and cultures, enriched by the adaptability and creativity of the Hong Kong people.
The Museum of Tea Ware is located at 10 Cotton Tree Drive, Central, Hong Kong (inside Hong Kong Park). Admission is free. It opens from 10am to 5pm daily. From October 1 onwards, the museum will change its opening hours - from 10am to 6pm daily. It will be closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays).
For details of the exhibition, please visit the Hong Kong Museum of Art's website www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/Museum/Arts/en/tea/tea05_201207.html or call 2869 0690.
Ends/Tuesday, September 11, 2012
This Changsha ware ewer with appliqué splashed with brown under a celadon glaze was produced in the Tang dynasty (618-907).
The ceramic work "Tong Xie Bai Shou" is a tea and coffee bag container produced by Li Wei-han.
Featuring legendary stories and relics related to tea, the exhibition "A Date with Chinese Tea" is now open at the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware and will run until April 1, 2013.