Lu Yu, author of Cha Jing, or The Classic of Tea, is often referred to as the patron saint of tea. He was a colourful character with expertise in many areas – not only tea.
Born in 733 CE in Jingling, Fuzhou (now Tianmen City, Hubei Province) about 125 miles southwest of Shanghai, Lu Yu was abandoned at the age of three. A Zen master at Longai Monastery found and adopted him. The monks consulted the I-Ching (The Book of Change) for a name for the boy. Lu Yu can be translated as “an earthy holy person”; there appears to be no record of his birth name.
It was at the monastery that Lu Yu began learning about the art of tea from the monks, who drank tea while they practiced meditation. Many of the monks were quite knowledgeable about tea.
Having no interest in Buddhism, Lu Yu left the monastery at the age of twelve. He subsequently spent several years in a performing troupe, earning fame as a comedian. During this time he wrote three books about comedy.
His popularity as a performer, and his considerable skill in preparing tea, brought him to the attention of high-ranking officials. One of these officials, a well-respected scholar, agreed to take him as a student. For six years Lu Yu studied what we would now call the liberal arts. He often prepared tea for his teacher and his fellow students.
One day, while gathering tea leaves and herbs in the countryside, Lu Yu discovered a spring with very clear water. The tea he made with this water was exceptional, and Lu Yu then understood the importance of water quality to tea.
Against a backdrop of civil war, Lu Yu set off at the age of 21 on a mission of research. Over the next two years, he collected samples of various types of teas. He then returned to Jingling to compile and study the samples.
Lu Yu worked for a time on tea farms to study cultivation and processing, but still felt that his education was lacking. When he was appointed an editor of a new imperial library, he came across a number of historical records on all aspects of tea – information that he never would have been able to research on his own in one lifetime. His tea education was now complete.
Cha Jing, the culmination of over 25 years of study and research, was the first comprehensive book written about tea. Lu Yu also developed new methods of preparing tea, as well as equipment to accommodate these methods, including a three-legged stove. These are documented in Cha Jing.
Lu Yu went on to write many other books on a number of topics – history, biographies, geography – as well as other books about tea. He was also a poet, a playwright, and a calligrapher. Sadly, most of his writings have been lost to history. Fortunately Cha Jing has survived. As the first “encyclopedia” of tea, it should be on every tea student’s reading list.
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