A Debate Between Tea and Beer (an ancient Chinese text)

Tea vs Beer
Tea vs Beer

One of the great things about the digital revolution is the whopping number of old books and documents — including many on tea — that are now just a mouse click away. If that’s not exciting enough, then consider that many such books are free.

But though it might seem that every bit of printed matter in the known universe has now been digitized, that’s not quite true — at least not yet. Take, for example, the ancient Chinese text with the rather intriguing name, A Debate Between Tea and Beer. As far as I’m aware, you can only access this curious document by picking up a copy of The True History of Tea, by Erling Hoh and Victor Mair. Which is not really a bad thing because, as I noted when I reviewed the book a few years ago, “If you’ve only got room on your shelves for one book of tea history, this should be the one.”

When you think of China and beverages, beer is probably not the first thing that springs to mind. After all, the famous saying references all the tea in China, not all the beer in China. But as this scholarly article notes, the Chinese have been drinking fermented beverages for quite some time.

A Debate Between Tea and Beer hails from the second half of the tenth century and is attributed to a scholar named Wang Fu. In it, the narrator asks each of the parties — Tea and Beer — to set forth their principles, with the result that “whoever is more convincing will bring glory to his whole family.”

Tea and Beer proceed to do just that, using language that’s certainly quite a bit more poetic than the average Presidential debate, including this line put forth by Tea, “through countless kulpas, the various Buddhas have esteemed it.” The two “entities” go back and forth for a time, touting their own merits and casting aspersions on the merits (or lack thereof) of their rival.

After a time both of them notice (spoiler alert) Water standing beside them. It (he? she?) proceeds to point out that neither Tea nor Beer could exist without Water. And thus the text ends, but not before Water admonishes the other two that they should be “brothers forever,” which is perhaps the tenth century equivalent to “can’t we all just get along?”

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