On classic Chinese tea books, many authors refer “tea-drinking” as “eating tea/吃茶”. This expression is still occasionally used today. By today’s standard, “eating tea” is definitely a ridiculous term. How can we eat a liquid? Shouldn’t we use the verb “drink”?
Some non Chinese speaking tea lovers assumed it has something to do with the Chinese language. They guessed that maybe it’s because the language doesn’t have the verb “to drink”.
Of course, this is a misunderstanding. Not only Chinese has the verb “to drink”, but also multiple verbs meaning “to drink” (in Chinese, depending on how formal the occasion is, different verbs are used).
Ancient tea drinkers called tea-drinking as “eating tea” because tea-drinking in thousands of years ago was quite different.
Unlike modern tea-drinking, ancient tea-drinking did not simply infuse tea leaves with hot water. For example, “Dian Cha/点茶” was one popular way to serve tea during China’s Tang dynasty (618-907) and Song dynasty (960-1276). Actually, today’s “matcha” is a simplified version of “Dian Cha”.
“Dian Cha” is not a cup of tea we can drink. To make a bowl of “Dian Cha”, we need to first grind leaves into fine powders; then, pour hot water into the bowl and make it into a mushy soup. The soup can be so thick that it’d be more appropriate to “eat” than “drink” it.
Traditional incense art also influenced the way tea was served.
In ancient “eating tea”, lotus nuts, pine nuts, tangerines, and almonds were often mixed into the tea experience. On the other hand, different types of incense were added to the ancient tea-making process.
Traditionally, wintersweet flowers, jasmine flowers, osmanthus flowers, borneol, must, agilawood, sandalwood, cinnamon, elecampane were used in old tea-making. Ancient physicians believed adding elements of incense into tea could further enhance the medical use of tea.
The excessively complex tea-making process and various incense ingredients made a cup/bowl of tea unnecessarily thick; therefore, a tea would taste more like soup than liquid.
Because the old tea-making and tea-drinking interfered with tea leaves’ natural aroma, color, and taste, a “revolution of tea-drinking” happened among tea drinkers hundreds of years ago. Since then, old world’s pure artistic and somewhat ostentatious way of tea-drinking became more practical and tea-focused.
As a result, tea-making and tea-drinking finally returned to a tea leaf’s original nature. Today’s tea-drinking involves only tea leaves and hot water. Instead of adding ingredients to tea leaves, tea makers have developed more techniques to better present us a clear, aromatic, and flavorful cup of tea.
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