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Tea was brought to China from India several millennia ago. Little was known about tea in China until the 3rd century CE. By the 6th century, during the Tang Dynasty, tea was being enjoyed by all classes of people for its medicinal value.  However, many enjoyed tea for its satisfying taste – a drink worthy of any connoisseur. According to records, tea was imported into Japan in 805 CE;  for a brief period of approximately two hundred years, tea was popular with the Heian Court.   However, tea and other Chinese influences were gradually turned away from as Japan sought to define its own culture. Tea was then reintroduced from China in the 11th century by a Zen Priest named Eisai.  He planted tea seeds in the area of Uji, south of Kyoto and the area remains to this day a major center of tea production. The procedures for the serving of tea (primarily in the Chinese style) were developed and codified over the next two centuries by the priests and the nobility.  Their use of large ostentatious rooms for the serving of tea with expensive imported objects was very popular. By early 15 CE, the philosophy of tea underwent a major shift. No longer was tea to be seen as a means of showing your skill and wealth at the expense of the beginner. In its preparation, greater consideration was placed on foreign and Japanese objects. The history that concerns us most today was brought about by a distinguished teacher and statesman, Sen No Rikyu (1521-91). Rising up through the merchant classes, he became the most influential teacher to the upper classes and indeed, everyone was encouraged to ‘make tea’.   Japan at this time was being torn by civil wars. Sen No Rikyu removed tea from the superficiality of the militant nobles’ grand houses and perfected a simpler tea - “Tea of the Thatched Hut”. The ceremony emphasized quiet contemplation. His style, called Wabi Cha, used simple native Japanese objects- many of ordinary household use -a practice unheard of before. He encouraged his guests to notice the beauty of simple objects.  For example, a rice bowl became a tea bowl; a piece of cut bamboo became a container for flowers. Above all else, tea was to incorporate his four precepts; Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquility. ‘To Sit and Make Tea’ is not a religious service but Rikyu included the philosophies of all the religions he had studied at the time - Buddhism, Shinto, Taoism and Christianity. The practice of Cha-do became universal but over the next 500 years, it changed to meet the demands of the times. In the late 1800s when Japan was opening up to the West, the tea masters realized that foreigners were unable to sit on the floor Japanese style for long periods of time.  Therefore, a simple solution was developed - tables and chairs were used to serve tea. Cha-do continues to evolve but at its core, it remains the same philosophical discipline using the vehicle of tea for the enjoyment and peace of all.
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The History Of Tea