Modern Day Customs and Institutions From Teahouses

The coffeehouse of early 18th century England was a social institution from which many modern day customs arose. They were places where both the highest and the lowest social strata could convene and socialize, engaging in all the activities that men wanted to, away from their wives and significant others (women were not allowed to enter at that time). Originally, the coffeehouse was just that, but once introduced, tea quickly infiltrated and became quite popular.

Three particularly common customs arose from the coffeehouse, which are still used today:

– When discussions would become heated and a democratic resolution was called for, one coffeehouse, the Turk’s Head, would take out what is now the familiar ballot box, and vote upon the issue. The concept took hold, and before the electronic age began, this box was used in our modern political voting system.

– There was another box that was often stationed in coffeehouses. When the establishment was particularly busy, patrons would put money into a wooden box labeled T.I.P (to ensure promptness) for the wait staff. This is how our modern concept of tipping came to be.

– Often, due to the large number of people who would congregate there, items were auctioned in side rooms of the coffeehouses. From this activity (and these coffeehouses) came the modern auction houses, such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s.

The Legend of Iron Goddess of Mercy (Tien Quan Yin) Oolong tea

Legend has it that a poor farmer in named Wei Anxi County in China maintained an ancient run down temple to the Bodhisattva Quan Yin, the Bodhisattva of compassion. One night, he was visited by the Bodhisattva in a dream, and was told to visit a particular spot for his reward, which he was instructed to share with his entire community. At this spot, Wei found a tiny sapling, which he nurtured until it grew into a great tea plant, from which all the Ti Quan Yin tea now derives.

The interesting part of this legend is that this is an incredibly tea, and the Anxi County is in fact where this special type of tea originated.

From Daruma’s Eyelids

One story tells of how tea came from the eyes of Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of Zen (whom the Japanese call Daruma). The tale has him sailing from India to China, and upon his arrival he sat facing the wall at Shaolin Temple unmoving for nine years. At one point during is meditation, he fell asleep momentarily. He quickly cut off his eyelids so that his eyes would never again close and detract him from his meditation. Where his eyelids landed on the ground, Quan Yin, the deity, made tea plants sprout to aid him, and all followers of Zen, on his path to enlightenment.

Coincidentally, the Japanese characters for tea leaf and eyelid are the same, which some claim gave rise to this particular legend.

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