Tea in poetry is a perfect pairing of a beverage that requires patience and observation to enjoy with a means to express that practice to the rest of the world. As soon as tea entered the scene in China it was quickly added to the poetry. This probably has more to do with the fact that it was the scholars and monks, who could read and write, that discovered and promoted tea consumption to the Chinese aristocracy. Lu Yu, who is credited with documenting in writing the process of making tea in the Classic of Tea, studied in a monastery and authored other books including some poetry. Below are two of our favorite tea poems from China.
A Winter Night
One winter night
A friend dropped in.
We drank not wine but tea.
The kettle hissed,
The charcoal glowed,
A bright moon shone outside.
The moon itself
Was nothing special –
But,ah, the plum-tree blossom!
Tu Hsiao-Shan, Sung Dynasty (960-1279 CE)
The Way of Tea
A friend from Yueh presented me
With tender leaves of Yen-Hsi tea,
For which I chose a kettle
Of ivory-mounted gold,
A mixing-bowl of snow-white earth.
With its clear bright froth and fragrance,
It was like the nectar of Immortals.
The first bowl washed the cobwebs from my mind-
The whole world seemed to sparkle.
A second cleansed my spirit
Like purifying showers of rain.
A third and I was one with the Immortals-
What need now for austerities
To purge our human sorrows?
Worldly people, by going in for wine,
Sadly deceive themselves.
For now I know the Way of Tea is real.
Chiao-Jen, T’ang Dynasty (618-906 CE) and friend of Lu Yu
There are many more poems around tea, both modern and ancient, please share your favorites in the comments section. If you fancy yourself a poet, share your own as well!