I was reading, among other things, an old tea text by the Song Emperor Huizong called the Daguan Chalun (The Treatise on Tea in the Daguan Reign). That dates the text to 1107-1110. In it, he talks about making tea, processing tea, and brewing tea. Tea, of course, was not what we now know as tea. Back then, they were steamed, then pressed (to get juices out of the leaves…), roasted, and then eventually grounded and mixed with water to drink. Yet, it’s all very strange sounding. I was reading the text, and was having trouble figuring out exactly how the whole brewing process took place. It seems like you do have multiple infusions of the same tea, or, at least, add water multiple times during the process of brewing tea. I’m not exactly sure if before each additional water injection you drink the stuff you just made, or if you just keep making it until all the water’s added and drink in one go. That must be obvious to him, but not to me. Maybe I didn’t read the text carefully enough, I don’t know.
That would, I think, mean that it’s very different from how, say, Japanese matcha is made. So much is often made of how Japanese matcha is a direct descendent of Song period tea drinking, but the fact of the matter is that there’s almost nothing similar between Japanese matcha and Song tea, at least as described in the Daguan Chalun. While the tools used do sound more or less similar, with the use of a chawan, chasen, etc, the whole processing of the teas (they are steamed, pressed, and then roasted) and the way of making them (multiple infusions of water) don’t sound anything like what the Japanese would recognize as their matcha or tea ceremony. The steaming is ok, but roasted?
So perhaps next time somebody tell you that matcha is just like the way they made tea in the Song dynasty, you can tell them they’re wrong, because an Emperor of the Song said so (he was a very accomplished artist, poet, Daoist, painter…. but he did lose his country).