gift tea and tribute tea

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There has long been a tradition in Asia of giving tea as a gift. Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea all consider tea to be one of the finest and most appropriate gifts to be offered as a sign of respect, and of course, the finer the tea, the finer the gift.

In 1972, Richard Nixon was given a rare and authentic 50 grams of Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) Wuyi tea by Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong. At first insulted by such a “meager” gift, Nixon was finally pacified when he learned that this gift represented half of the entire harvest of this rare tea for the year.

The concept of “gift tea” (li cha) goes back thousands of years in China, where tea has been viewed as a medicine and currency; and “tribute tea” (gong cha) refers to the offering of tea as a gift to the Emperor and other dignitaries in China. By the Tang Dynasty (618-907) these “tribute” teas for the Imperial Court became a mandatory tax that all tea growers were required to surrender, and the harvesting of teas was carefully monitored by governing agents.

Tea has also long played a role as a customary betrothal gift, and in the Song Dynasty, was offered to the family of a young woman as a proposal for marriage from the parents of the potential groom. To “Accept Tea” and “Drink Tea” conferred confirmation of the engagement. In some countries, the family’s best puerh teas are saved or stored as a dowry for their children.