The Exotic Teapot Blog
Tea Bricks, a Chinese currency
It is no secret that here at The Exotic Teapot we love drinking a variety of different teas. After all, when they taste this good what else would you do with them? The same can’t be said for the rest of the world. Whilst many countries do enjoy their own take on a cup of tea, there are those that have found alternative uses for tea. One example of this are Tea Bricks, they have been used as a form of payment since the 9th Century. Some of the places that used tea bricks include Siberia, Tibet, Russia, Mongolia and Turkmenistan. However, one of the most well known countries that used this alternative currency is China. In fact, the Chinese Emperor himself was known to be a driving force behind the production of tea bricks.
The quality of tea bricks
There are 5 different types of quality of tea brick. They vary in colour, proportion of wood to leaf and their fermentation too. Each one is represented with a particular stamp. The best quality tea brick are those that are dark brown, these bricks contain fermented tea leaves. The poorest quality is dark yellow, these will contain soot, wood shavings and twigs. The most common tea brick that was seen was the third level of quality.
How tea bricks were made
It takes a number of different stages to make tea bricks. The first stage is picking the tea leaves and leaving them in the sun to dry naturally. Once they have dried out, the leaf is removed from the stem and then they are sifted through to make sure that they are separate. These separated leaves are put into a bag, which is steamed over boiling water. These perfectly steamed leaves are then placed into a metal mould, where rice water will regularly be used to moisten them, and avoid any air bubbles from forming. During this stage, beef blood, flour or animal dung is added to bind the mixture and keep the brick in its form. The final stage is to place the brick through a fire, which ages it and gets it ready to be used.
How tea bricks were used
As a tea brick was split into sections, it could be used bit by bit, not all at once. It was also popular because it was easy to keep fresh and easy to carry around. They were perfect for trade across regions, and because they were edible, they were a popular and useful method of payment. Whilst they were more commonplace in the areas where they were produced, decreasing their value, as the production centres became further away, the value of tea bricks significantly increased. Tea bricks were often the standard which other trades were judged against, and were a huge part of trade across different countries and communities.
They may be a fascinating part of history, but here at The Exotic Teapot, we think that we may stick with simply indulging ourselves in a delicious cup of tea, rather than using it to buy our shopping!