LaB 5555 this Friday: Steep yourself in culture, say oolong to the stress of the week and TEA off with The Tontons

Today’s blog comes to us from Te House of Tea owner Connie Lacobie in advance of our tea-themed LaB 5555 this Friday, Feb. 8, featuring musical guests The Tontons! Steep yourself in the culture of tea from 7 to 8 p.m. before you hit the dance floor by reserving tickets here.

Tea was first discovered in China about 4,000 years ago, but it was not until 400 to 600 A.D. that was tea heavily demanded and mass cultivation started to fit market demand. The Chinese used tea as a medicinal drink mixed with onion, orange, ginger and other spices.  It was considered a precious gift to the Emperor and nobles only.  Around 479 A.D., Turkish merchants began trading tea around the Mongolian borders.

In the 700s, tea was introduced to Japan by Lu Yu, who wrote the first definitive book about tea. This tome, The Classic of Tea, attracted the interest of Zen Buddhist monks in Japan, and tea began its journey to the East. From the 600s to the 900s, between the Tang Dynasty and Sung Dynasty, matcha green tea powder was the most commonly used and traded tea to India,Turkey and Russia and was transported via horse, donkey and camel caravans.

Steep yourself in the culture of tea at LaB 5555 this Feb. 8!

During the Yuan Dynasty under Mongolian Emperors, tea was a common drink. But even though Marco Polo had ample contact with the dynasty, he did not bring back tea to Italy and the country missed its chance to earn a fortune. After the Mongolian reign, whole leaf steeping was widely used in favor of matcha, and black tea and oolong tea processing began.

A few hundred years later, toward the end of the Ming Dynasty, European missionaries started to land in Asia to spread Christianity to the East. When they returned west, they brought back new knowledge about the benefit and pleasure of drinking tea.

It wasn’t the tea-loving Brits who first encountered the beverage, however. The first European known to encounter tea was the Portuguese Jesuit Father Jasper de Cruz, who documented his experience in 1560. Dutch traders became the first Europeans to bring tea back to the west, and they profited immensely from selling this exotic beverage. The Portuguese and the Dutch collaborated in the tea trade from China, carrying the valuable merchandise to other European countries.

In 1662, Charles II married Catherine Braganza of Portugal, who loved tea and made it the most common beverage drink in England — even above alcohol. As demand increased from the west, annual tea trade was recorded in British diplomat Harry Parkes’  Report on the Russian Caravan Trade from China. Russian Caravan Tea (lapsang souchong) was documented as having been exchanged for small furs, like squirrels. Teas began traveling annually through Kiakhta, Mongolia to Russia via the Silk Road, then from Russia to the west. The Dutch started to compete against the Portuguese in the tea trade, which motivated the English empire to join an alliance with the Portuguese.

Queen Elizabeth I appointed the East India Company to control all trading business with the East. The company used India as a base to extend its ambitious influence to China, where it introduced and encouraged opium sales. Not long afterward, the Qing government attempted to crack down on opium use and smuggling in Canton and other southern provinces. However, because China had less military prowess and technology at its disposal, China lost most struggles during these “Opium Wars,” and ultimately lost Hong Kong to the English in 1842. Following that, China was scrambled by eight different European countries, with each occupying one or more provinces.

Can you believe the tea trade could lead to the scramble for China and the collapse of the Qing Dynasty?

As the demand for tea continued to grow, the English spread tea plantations to their colony in India. Nearly every region touched by the English Empire was influenced by tea.

This included the New World, where the English, being envious of Dutch success in the  area, decided to try to monopolize the tea market in New England. They passed The Tea Act in 1773, which led to Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution.

Imperialism in the 1900s even brought tea to Africa, where plantations were established in Uganda, Kenya and Malawi. Even today, tea is the second-most common beverage, second only to water, because of its history and reputed benefits.

The Tontons
LaB 5555′s featured musical guests, The Tontons

Learn all the political and social implications of the tea trade at LaB 5555 this Friday and then dance it out to the music of local favorites The Tontons — and be sure to check out their new single, out this month!

Last chance to see Terra Cotta Warriors — EVER! Hurry in before the army moves out Sept. 3

There may have been a Terra Cotta Warriors II, but — mark our words — there will not be a Terra Cotta Warriors III.

HMNS’ second special exhibition of the exquisitely detailed and distinct warriors that guarded the tomb of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shihuang, extends the story of the Qin, Han and Tang dynasties with 200 ancient works of art, including newly-discovered artifacts unearthed from imperial, royal and elite tombs.

golden dragon

The stunning exhibition — which also featured the premiere of a Terra Cotta Warrior with its original green paint still intact, thanks to new conservation techniques — closes Sept. 3.

What better way to celebrate Labor Day than to examine up-close the extreme care that went into each warrior’s individualized features, the fine ornaments and sacred objects, or the extraordinary works of art?

TCW II: Warriors, Tombs and TemplesHMNS is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Sept. 1 through Sept. 3. Click here for tickets.

Flickr Photo of the Month: Trappings of Yingpan Man [Dec. 2010]

Trappings of Yingpan Man. 3rd - 4th century
Trappings of Yingpan Man. 3rd – 4th century by cybertoad, on Flickr.
Posted here with permission.

There are some amazing photographers that wander the halls of HMNS, and when we’re lucky, they share what they capture in our HMNS Flickr pool. This month, we’re re-starting a series where we’ll share one of these photos on the blog each month.

Elaine (cybertoad on Flickr) took this photo during a Flickr meetup in our current Secrets of the Silk Road exhibition. From the photographer:

The Beauty of Xioahe may have been the exhibit’s celebrity but the Yingpan Man still captured me. His simple funerary mask with the delicately painted eyebrows and the gold leaf evoke a sense of elegance and peace that I hope he carried with him into the after life.

Inspired? Most of the Museum’s galleries are open for photography, and we’d love for you to share your shots with us on Flickr, Facebook or Twitter. Check out the HMNS photo policy for guidelines.

Photography is prohibited in this exhibition during general hours. If you’d like to join one of our Flickr meetups, check out our Flickr group Discussions page for updates on upcoming events.

Want to see Yingpan Man for yourself? Secrets of the Silk Road is only on display for a few more weeks!

Secrets of the Silk Road – Coming Soon to HMNS!

Strikingly well-preserved mummies, tall in stature and fair in complexion, have lain in the parched Tarim Basin of western China for 3,800 years. Wearing Western-influenced textiles and possessing surprising technologies and customs, the identity of these extraordinary people is a mystery! Who were these people?

Secrets of the Silk Road, a new HMNS exhibition, will give you a chance to unravel the mystery starting Aug. 27. For the first time ever, three of the more than 100 Caucasian mummies found and preserved in the western China’s inhospitable desert sands are being presented in the United States. This exhibit will also showcase over 150 objects drawn from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Museum and the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology in Urumqi.

Don’t miss your chance to learn the surprising details about the people who lived along the ancient Silk Road.

Can’t see the video? Click here to view it in your browser.

Want to know more? Check out these articles:
USA Today
LA Times
CultureMonster blog
Archaeology