Mount Wuyi in China’s Fujian province is a historic site for the production of exceptional teas, and was the site of an imperial tea farm from the 11th to the 16th centuries. The early Ming dynasty in particular made a significant mark on how we drink tea today. They replaced the labour-intensive preparation of bricks of tea powder with the infusion of tea from dried leaves - a convention continued to this day. This significant change was instigated by the founder of the Ming dynasty, the Hongwu emperor. These changing habits of tea consumption were part of wider social changes of the Ming period, including changing tastes in clothing and preferences for new forms of domestic objects.
Tea from Mount Wuyi continues to be highly valued today. Tea from the original tree was given by Chairman Mao as a diplomatic gift to US President Richard Nixon on his historic visit to China in 1972.
This detail from a handscroll, ‘Elegant Gathering in the Apricot Garden’, after Xie Huan (1370–1450), probably depicts the preparation of tea for an elite group. The host of this event, Yang Rong (1371–1440), sits in a red robe at the centre of the painting, while at the far left his servants prepare tea or wine. Although such a senior figure would not prepare his guest’s beverages himself, the appreciation and enjoyment of tea was intrinsic to such events, alongside the viewing of paintings, the composition of verse, and performances of music and calligraphy.
You can see this beautiful handscroll in the BP exhibition Ming: 50 years that changed China