Once upon a time, you could safely say that the art of tea and the Chinese art of tea were the same thing, given that the Chinese are credited with being the first people to drink our beloved beverage. But even though tea drinking eventually spread to other countries it’s worth noting that the Chinese culture of tea drinking is still a strong one. There’s also the fact that the Chinese are the world’s top producers of the stuff, including a number of varieties that are considered by many to be among the best available.
Over the course of the last decade or so the Western world has seen a considerable rise in interest in tea and tea culture, be it Chinese or otherwise. But this was not the case in 1985, when lackluster tea bags still ruled the roost in many parts of the West and the notion of drinking tea that was actually recognizably Chinese would have been considered very exotic.
It was in this landscape that John Blofeld published his pioneering book, The Chinese Art of Tea. A scholar who lived in and traveled extensively throughout Asia, Blofeld published a number of books on Buddhism, Taoism and other aspects of Asian religion and culture, with this particular volume the last of his works to be published in his lifetime.
It’s a work that would have been considered impressive even today, when tea scholarship is arguably a more common thing, but in Blofeld’s day it was quite a striking accomplishment. He starts off with a chapter on Tea in History and Legend and then explores such classic works as The Emperor Hui Tsung’s Treatise on Tea and A Ming Dynasty Tea Manual. There are chapters devoted to tea gardens and teahouses and also the relationship between tea and ceramics.
On the more spiritual side of things are chapters devoted to Poems and Songs of Tea, A Manual for Practising the Artless Art, and Tea and the Tao. Blofeld winds up things with a chapter devoted to tea’s potential health benefits, a chapter that predates much of the flood of interest in tea and health that we’ve been deluged with over the last decade or so.
Blofeld’s book was an important pioneering work on tea and tea culture in China, but it’s interesting to note that it was hardly the last such work. In 1990, authors Kit Chow and Ione Kramer released the appropriately titled All the Tea in China. More recently, in 2011, Daniel Reid, another noted scholar of all things Asian, released a volume titled The Art and Alchemy of Chinese Tea. For more on that work, look here.
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