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Do you have Prince Albert in a can? No, but I have Lu Yu in a box.

September 29, 2009



If there’s one figure in history that those of us entrenched in Chinese tea culture have to hold in high esteem, it is the 8th century scholar Lu Yu (陆羽), often called the “Sage of Tea,” and sometimes called the “Saint of Tea.” His best known work, the Cha Jing (茶經, “Classic of Tea”), is still highly valuable in tea scholarship today, for its breadth of information, but also for the historical context it provides about tea culture during the Tang Dynasty. The work is frustratingly difficult to obtain in English translation, since it has been out of print for decades. The translation by Frances Ross Carpenter is generally available used through Amazon in what appears to be two different editions: The Classic of Tea and The Classic of Tea: Origins & Rituals.

There is a new translation by Warren Peltier of select portions of the Cha Jing which is currently in pre-publication, and hopefully it will become available to the community of contemporary tea scholars in the near future.

lu_yu_box_openIf you’re not hampered by needing to read an English translation, the Cha Jing can be read on Project Gutenberg in Chinese. It is also readily available and affordable in print in Chinese editions.

A few details on Lu Yu’s life, excerpted from Lu Yu and Chinese Tea Culture:

Born in 733 AD in the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD), Lu Yu was an orphan adopted by a monk in modern day Hubei Province. At that time, drinking tea became a nationwide tradition. (Tea drinking originally appeared in Southern China, and until the mid-Tang Dynasty it started to gain favor with Northern Chinese). The widespread distribution of tea can be attributed to the extensive practice of Zen Buddhism in the whole country. Because sleeping and eating were strictly prohibited for Buddhists practicing meditation, they could only drink tea. Many monks were tea connoisseurs at the same time.

lu_yu_snuffThe monk who adopted Lu Yu was a tea lover and Lu Yu prepared tea for him from childhood. As the years passed, Lu Yu’s skill at preparing tea improved and he developed a great interest in the brew. In his late years, Lu Yu withdrew from the outside world and concentrated on research into tea. The fruits of his research were written down in his masterpiece—the Classic of Tea.

lu_yu_closeupThe sculptural portrayal of Lu Yu appearing in this post is a snuff bottle. It is a contemporary piece which I believe is probably a reproduction of an antique porcelain snuff bottle. He is only 2.75″ tall, and I anticipate a compulsion to fill his teeny red cup with tea every so often.

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