Japanese Tea: tea for the Emperor’s court

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A particular sort of Tea, which is call’d Udsi Tsjaa, which I proceed now to give a more accurate account of, lest any thing should be omitted in my proposed history of this shrub.

Udsi is a small town situate in a district of the same name, not far from the sea-coasts on one side, and from Miaco the capital City and Residence of the Ecclesiastical Hereditary Emperor of Japan, on the other. The climate of this place hath been observed to be, beyond others, favourable for the culture of the Tea shrub: Hence it is, that the Tea brought from thence is reckon’d the best in the Country.

All the Tea which is drank at the Emperor’s court, and in the Imperial family, is cultivated on a mountain of the same name with the town, and seated in the same district, which on this very account is become particularly famous.

The chief Purveyor of Tea at the Imperial court hath also the inspection of this mountain, whither he sends his deputies to take care both of the culture of the shrub, and of the gathering and preparation of the leaves. The mountain itself is very pleasant to behold, and surrounded with a broad ditch to keep off men and beasts.

The shrubs are planted as it were in walks, which are swept and clean’d every day, as well as the shrubs themselves, the keepers being obliged to take particular care, that no dirt be thrown on the leaves, for which reason also, and for a farther security, the shrubs are in several places inclosed with hedges.

When the time of gathering the leaves draws near, and at least two or three weeks before, the persons who are to gather them must abstain from eating of fish, or any unclean food, lest, by the impurity of their breath, they should stain the leaves, and injure their goodness: So long as the gathering lasts, they must wash themselves twice or thrice a day, either in a hot bath, or in the river: Nor are they suffer’d to touch the leaves with their bare hands, but must pluck them with gloves on.

The leaves being gather’d and prepared according to art, are put into paper bags, and these into larger earthen or porcellane pots, which, for the better preservation of the leaves, are fill’d with common Tea.

Being thus pack’d up, the chief Surveyor of the works sends them up to court under a good guard, and with a numerous attendance, all out of respect for the supreme majesty of the Emperor.

Hence arises the great price of this Imperial Tea, for computing all the charges of cultivating, gathering, preparing and sending it up to Court, one Kin or Catti amounts to no less than thirty or forty Siumome, or Thails, that is, forty-two or fifty-six crowns, or ounces of silver.

Nay the chief Purveyor of Tea, in the accounts he lays before the Imperial Exchequer, is not ashamed to bring in the price of some of this Tea at one Obani, which is a gold coin worth about an hundred ounces of silver, and sometimes at an hundred Thails, or one hundred and forty ounces of silver.

This will appear the less surprizing, if it be consider’d, that sometimes one pot of this Tea, containing no more than three or four Catti’s, is sent up to Court with near two hundred people to attend it.

In our audience at Court, as it is customary to treat us with Tea, I remember that one of the gentlemen then in waiting presented a dish to me, with the following compliment: Drink heartily, and with pleasure, for one dish costs one Itzebo. An Itzebo is a square gold coin, worth about one of our ducats, and a fourth part, (or about twelve or thirteen shillings English.)

Read more:
Japanese Tea: history of Darma
Japanese Tea: manner of cultivating the Tea in Japan
Japanese Tea: gathering of the tea leaves
Japanese Tea: chief different sorts of tea
Japanese Tea: tea for the Emperor’s court
Japanese Tea: use of the tea

Source: Engelbert Kaempfer: The History of Japan, London 1727
Photo: Ukiyo-e print, internet

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