April 2013

The Tea Roads

For immediate release

Four O'clock Teas presents
The Tea Roads, a Pointe-à-Callière Exhibition on a Beverage with over a Thousand Years of History. The World’s Most Popular Drink, After Water!
April 30 to September 29, 2013

Montréal, April 29, 2013 – As you read these lines, tea will have satisfied, soothed and warmed tens of thousands of people. After water, tea is the world’s preferred beverage: 15,000 cups are consumed every second. To say tea is popular is an understatement. It is also extremely ancient.

The Tea Roads, an exhibition steeped by Pointe-à-Callière in partnership with the Musée Guimet des arts asiatiques in Paris and 20 other lenders, takes you on a journey along the vertiginous roads of the ancient tea routes, a journey spanning centuries and continents and culminating in our hectic modern lives. Every age in this astonishing adventure begins in China, where the tiny leaves with countless benefits originated and where the three main methods of tea preparation –boiling, whipping, and steeping – were invented. The four main zones of the exhibition offer up an ancient itinerary that ventures into the realm of poetry and refinement, exploring the love of tea.

“We’re inviting our visitors to take a journey along the tea roads, whose deep historic and cultural roots span the entire globe. I hope that everyone will gain health, joy and serenity from this exploration of the Way of Tea (cha-do), and its esthetic, philosophical and spiritual dimensions,” explains Francine Lelièvre, Pointe-à-Callière’s Executive Director.

Priceless objects and works of art
Over 200 objects, some of them considered true works of art, are on display. They include a number of exceptional pieces, impressive for their beauty, age and rarity as well as for the stories they tell. There are magnificent celadon porcelain pieces, with their subtle jade colour, and the famous yixing teapots that “remember” previous infusions; their high iron content gives the clay a special colour, and the teapots are worth more than gold! The exhibits also include Japanese raku tea bowls; a Tang period (619-908) terracotta horse saluting the hard work of these small but sturdy animals; tea bricks and cakes wrapped in bamboo leaves in the shape of logs or baskets for the journey on horseback; a variety of pouring vessels and superb serving accessories made of fine porcelain; and “Imperial” teapots and bowls crafted during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) or produced in the Emperor’s workshops in the 20th century.

The legendary birth of tea
The far-off beginnings of tea are rooted in a legend that dates back to the year 2737 BCE. Emperor Shennong, well-loved by his subjects and venerated as the Father of Medicine (he had even taught people to boil water before drinking it), was resting under a tree with a bowl of simmering water to calm his upset stomach. A gust of wind caused a few leaves to drop into his bowl. Shennong admired the colour the leaves imparted to the liquid, which he also found to be a delicious beverage. And tea was born. Visitors are introduced to this wonderful story as soon as they enter the exhibition, through magnificent objects recounting the origins of tea: female figures preparing tea, a splendid tea grinder, and ancient tea cups and pouring vessels.

The Tea Horse Road: boiled tea, a luxury item
The Tea Horse Road developed under the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Visitors can follow the itinerary taken by tea from China to Upper Asia. Thanks to progress in packing tea for transport, leaves could now be compressed into compact bricks or cakes and carried on horseback, or even by men and women on their backs. Caravan drivers would leave for over a year, and some would never return. In fact these caravans continued until the arrival of Mao Tse Tung, in the 20th century. Over time and through different dynasties, the last leg of the Tea Horse Road extended 6,000 kilometres, all the way to Russia. Tea remained a luxury item and became the focus of China-Russia trade in 1730. With the appearance of the samovar, an urn for preparing tea invented in the second half of the 18th century, it spread throughout all of Russia.

The Way of Tea: spirituality and harmony in the age of whipped tea
Under the Song Dynasty (960-1279) tea was beaten or mashed: green tea was ground with a millstone, and the powder obtained was beaten in simmering water with a bamboo whisk. The Way of Tea introduces visitors to the profound calm found along the road to spirituality and harmony. Tea spread within China, and teahouses appeared. All of China, people of every class, fell under its spell. This led to the birth of porcelain, since under the Song Dynasty tea accessories became increasingly precious, made from jade, gold, silver and fine porcelain. Buddhist monks brought tea to Japan in the 9th century, returning from a trip to China with tea plant seeds. Over time, the ritual surrounding whipped tea became highly ceremonial, with the smallest details codified by the monk Sen no Rikyu, for whom sobriety and humility were key to the tea ceremony. The exhibition contains a number of magnificent objects designed in the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic: simplicity (wabi) and the patina of age (sabi). Some of these superb pieces were created by great Japanese artists, while others were shaped by hand rather than thrown on a potter’s wheel, and fired using the raku technique developed by a potter named Chojiro at Sen no Rikyu’s request.

Steeped tea on the Routes of the Sea
It was under the Ming Dynasty, in 1391, that a new and very simple way of preparing tea was developed: placing (dried) tea leaves in boiling water. Teapots were a natural invention. And though its spread had slowed after the Mongol invasions, nothing could now prevent tea from conquering the world. In the 16th century, the story of tea intertwined with that of sailing and advances in cartography. Above all, it was key to the relentless political and economic ambitions of European companies. The exhibition looks at the two “Opium Wars” between Britain and China, and the tensions between New England colonists and the homeland that eventually led to the famous “Boston Tea Party.”

There is also a section devoted to the story of the Griffin, a British East India Company ship that left the Chinese port of Canton on December 31, 1760, loaded with 300 cases of tea and 200 cases of porcelain, silks and cotton fabric. On January 20, 1761, it struck a reef and sank. It wasn’t until 1986 that the wreck was discovered, with some magnificent porcelain pieces still intact in its hold. These porcelain treasures tell a fascinating story!

In 1833, the British East India Company lost its monopoly, and the United States captured a large share of the tea market thanks to a new type of sailing ship. A clipper, as they were known, could make the run from Canton to London in three months, whereas a heavier Indiaman took six. Here in Canada, it was not until the 1820s that Francophones began developing a taste for tea. But in the second half of the 19th century, the influence of the English court began to assert itself, and afternoon tea gained in popularity. Some major manufacturers started producing ceramics for tea in Quebec, and well-known Canadian tea companies appeared, including the Salada Tea Company of Toronto, and the Red Rose brand from New Brunswick.

Walk your own tea road
One of the exhibition spaces, designed in the style of a tea garden, gives visitors a chance to learn more about tea: its origins, how it is grown, processed and distributed, its various designations and its scents. They can put their noses to the test by sniffing the various aromas emanating from the samples on display. The exhibition explains the different varieties of tea: not only green and black tea, but also white, yellow, Wulong or Oolong, red, Pu-erh and scented. Various ways of drinking tea according to different traditions are also examined. Visitors can learn about green tea tasting in China, how sencha is prepared in Japan, making chai in India, the recipe for delicious gunpowder tea in Morocco, and how to relax with a “cuppa” black tea in England.

The exhibition also showcases a tea set found by Pointe-à-Callière in 2011 during archaeological digs in Place D'Youville, on the site of the Parliament of the United Province of Canada and displayed here for the first time. It is quite valuable, for very few items could be saved from the Parliament building when it was burned down on April 25, 1849. The visibly charred pieces are among the highlights of the exhibition.

Pointe-à-Callière wishes to thank the exhibition commissioner, Jean-Paul Desroches. Mr. Desroches was a curator for the Musée Guimet, in Paris, for 35 years, and taught at the École du Louvre for 20 years, as the Chair of Far Eastern studies. The Museum also wishes to thank the many institutions that made this exhibition possible, along with the Musée Guimet in Paris. Lenders include the Musée du quai Branly (Paris), the Musée des arts décoratifs (Paris), the Société Tseng/Maison des trois thés (Paris), the Collection Louis Vuitton, the Musée d'Ennery (Paris), the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Stewart Museum, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the McCord Museum, the Henry Stuart House and the Palais des Thés (Paris).

The Tea Roads, presented by Four O'clock Teas, was produced by Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Archaeology and History Complex, in partnership with the Musée national des arts asiatiques Guimet à Paris. Pointe-à-Callière thanks its sponsors: Air Canada Cargo, Canal Vie, Aéroports de Montréal, Tourisme Montréal, Hôtel Intercontinental, La Presse and The Gazette.