Bookshelf

Story of the Tea Sage

Lo Yu (陆羽,Lu Yu) was born in A.D. 733 and dies in A. D. 804. Nothing is known about his family background, as he was abandoned as a baby. He was found by a Buddhist monk who was walking around a lake. The monk saw wild geese circling in the air above lots of tall reeds and, looking closer, saw a small baby sitting among reeds while being fed by the geese. When the monk lifted up the boy the geese started attacking him, but he managed to escape with the baby back to the monastery. At first the monk called him Fei Sing, meaning “shooting star,” but that made the baby cry, as did all the other names tried. One day the monk called him Lo Yu, and the baby blinked but didn’t cry. “Lo” means earth and Yu means feather, so the name tells the story of Lo Yu’s past: he arrived from nowhere like a feather falling from sky and landing on the ground.

As a boy Lo Yu was very clever, writing poetry by the time he was nine. He also developed a love for tea. However, he did not enjoy the monastic way of life and ran away when he was 12. Fortunately, he met people who recognized his talents and he was able to study literature. He also began to recognize the healing properties of tea. By the time he was 21, Lo Yu decided he would devote himself to studying tea and began to collect and research it. By A. D. 764 he had written his first draft of the famous Ch’a Ching《茶經》and in A. D. 780 the first edition was published. Ch’a Ching was immediately recognized as an encyclopedia of tea, as other books on tea simply did not compare to the details and specifications of Lo Yu’s work. Thus Ch’a Ching became a reference for later works on tea.

Initially Ch’a Ching was only well known among tea lovers, although its reputation eventually spread outside China. On one occasion a Muslim was to offer 1,000 battle horses in exchange for a copy of Ch’a Ching. The Chinese emperor had not heard of the book but spent a long time looking for it. Eventually he found a copy for the emissary to take home and as a result Ch’a Ching was translated into many languages and became well known throughout the world. Impressed by the Muslim interest, the emperor also read the book and recognized the talent of its author. He sent subjects to search for Lo Yu to ask if he would work for the government and help with the administration. Lo Yu declined, saying he had promised to devote his life to researching tea.

(From The Way of Tea — The Sublime Art of Oriental Tea Drinking, published 2002 by Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.)