This saying came into being around the late 19th or early 20th Century. Its meaning is relatively clear; Not at any cost, or as we might say today, ‘No way.’
This innocuous phrase was used because tea was so prevalent in China, as it still is today with the country producing more than a quarter of the world’s tea.
Tea comes from the Camelia Sinensus plant, or tea tree. Several different types of tea are picked from this plant, but the method of processing the leaves varies according to the particular flavour that is sought.
There are eight main stages to the processing of tea. The process begins with
plucking the leaves, which is traditionally done by hand, through seven further stages aimed at oxidation,, darkening the leaves and enriching the flavour until the final drying stage is reached.
The people of China have been drinking tea for millennia. There are several legends relating to the discovery of this valuable product and here follow just two of them.
In the first it is said that Emperor Shennong accidentally made the discovery when he was out.Legend has it that being very fastidious he always insisted that his drinking water was boiled. On one occasion as his servants carried out this task in the countryside a leaf from a tea plant fell into the water and they failed to notice it. On tasting the drink the emperor found that he liked the taste and so a new drink was born.
The second legend has it that Yan Di, an ancient Chinese ruler who was in the habit of tasting several different herbs to ascertain their medicinal properties lay poisoned beneath a tea tree form one of the herbs he had tasted. A drop of water from the tree fell on him and he recovered, thus discovering a new beneficial plant.
There have been several books and manuscripts written on tea. Many Chinese scholars have produced tomes on the subject. Amongst the most famous are ‘Classics of Poetry’, said to be the earliest surviving manuscript to mention tea, and the ‘Classics of Tea’, written during the Tang Dynasty by Lu Yu. Lu Tingcan’s manuscript ‘Sequel to Classic Tea’ was written during the Qing Dynasty.
There are several different types of tea and different teas tend to be drunk according to their particular qualities, both as regards taste, and also its medicinal properties.
Green tea is most commonly drunk in China and comes in different types, including Longjing, which comes from the West Lake region and is sometimes known as Dragon Well Tea.
All Green Teas are reportedly beneficial to health, being particularly helpful against fever and inflammation.
Green Tea in general is also supposed to be able to resist the effects of radiation and is therefore considered a very good drink for those who work on computers.
Black Tea is perhaps the most commonly drunk in the West, although Green Tea is rising in popularity.
Oolong tea is considered something of a gourmet tea, being reminiscent of Gongfu Tea, which is served in tiny cups and has a whole set of tea wares to accompany its serving.
During the Qing Dynasty tea shops gained importance as places of entertainment and in the Sichuan Province this is still the case.
The ancient Ceremony of Tea Tasting is not so rigorous here as in Japan, but is still a serious occasion and should be carried out with due ceremony and accompanied by the correct tea wares.
Throughout Europe there are all kinds of flavoured and perfumed teas to try, so drink up and happy tasting!
Greg is an avid traveller who loves exploring China! One piece of advice to follow is to always get a comprehensive travel policy rather than cheap travel insurance when going long haul.