The Wikipedia article on the history of tea mentions that Laozi described tea as "the froth of the liquid jade." What is the original text in Chinese? If the original text cannot be found, could I request a translation?

My attempt at a literal translation is: yè (liquid) yù (jade). I'm only a second-year Chinese student, so I don't know if this rendition is literary, as the English translation implies, or if it sounds right to the ears.

  • 5
    Quite possible it is "玉液". However I haven't found the original source yet. And according to this book, "the froth of the liquid jade" wasn't said by Laozi but another person.
    – Stan
    May 15, 2014 at 4:23
  • 2
    Any chance this is just a mistranslation?! 玉液 is definitely a term/phrase or whatever in Chinese but there doesn't seem to but a whole lot of connection to tea! 泡 can mean both frothy and make (of tea) 泡茶, right? 信阳毛尖十道茶 第二道 is called 泡茶玉液龙潭水 - so in theory 泡玉液 could have been mistranslated as "the froth of the liquid jade"
    – Mou某
    May 23, 2014 at 5:02

4 Answers 4


It should be '玉液'. But it often used together with another word '琼浆'.

琼浆玉液 is often used to describe extremely delicious things to drink, like wine or tea...

  • Sorry to hijack this thread, but could you confirm for me usage to describe extremely delicious things? Would it be 这个菜是琼浆玉液 or 这个菜很琼浆玉液 or something else entirely?
    – Ming
    May 16, 2014 at 3:34
  • 1
    This can ONLY be used for something to DRINK, because 浆 and 液 are both liquid. You can say 这酒真好喝, 简直是琼浆玉液. 很琼浆玉液 is wrong, you should never use it that way. 这茶是琼浆玉液 is acceptable. But 琼浆玉液 is sort of old/formal saying, which sound very much literal. We don't use it much in normal daily life or casual occasions :)
    – Soony
    May 16, 2014 at 3:52
  • Only something to drink, got it, thank you! I figured it wasn't common, but I still wanted to know because it sounded interesting :)
    – Ming
    May 16, 2014 at 3:54
  • Glad to help :)
    – Soony
    May 16, 2014 at 3:58
  • Describing tea as 琼浆玉液? Are you sure?
    – user4086
    May 21, 2014 at 8:27

I looked at some articles about Laozi, Taoism and Tea. What I found was the phrase "the froth of liquid jade" might not be due to Laozi, though there are some English Internet articles saying so. What I found was the following:

1) There is no Chinese literature saying Laozi used the phrase 琼浆玉液 to describe tea. Actually, Laozi did like tea, but it was because of its plain taste and medical feel (not the sensational taste as described by the phrase "the froth of liquid jade"). According to some research article (http://cart.ntua.edu.tw/upload/st/200412/200412A03.pdf), Laozi was against food/drinks with strong flavors (五味 = 酸sour﹑甘sweet﹑苦bitter﹑辛spicy﹑咸salty) : 茶的少滋味,正符合《老子》:「五味令人爽」的飲食觀點,所謂「五味令人爽」指五味亂口,使口爽傷之意,此一飲食觀點也與《莊子‧天地》篇所說:「夫失性有五…四曰五味濁口,使口厲爽;五曰趣舍滑心,使性飛揚」的旨趣相同。可見老莊以「無為」為貴,在飲食生活中已涵化為去滋味,依本性的養生實踐。

2) What Laozi commented about tea was a story like this. Laozi was leaving the Hangu Pass, the local officer Yinxi treated him at home with tea, which was the beginning of tea. Laozi said: Those who drink this tea are our disciples. 道经《天皇至道太清玉册》记载:“老子出函谷关,令尹喜迎之于家首献茗,此茶之始。老子曰:食是茶者,皆汝之道徒也。” However, he did not comment on the flavor of tea.

3) The phrase 琼浆玉液 was first used in the Warring States period (476–221BC): 《楚辞·王逸<九思·疾世>》:“从卭遨兮栖迟,吮**玉液**兮止渴。”原注:“玉液,琼蘂之精气。” 战国·楚·屈原《招魂》:“华酌既陈,有**琼浆**些。” But Laozi was generally believed to live in the Spring and Autumn period (771-476BC). So the translation of "liquid jade" 玉液could not be attributed to Laozi, according to known Chinese sources. Rather, "froth of liquid jade" seems to describe a kind of bubbling green tea (Matcha). This method was introduced in Song Dynasty (960–1279, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matcha).

Therefore, the phrase "froth of liquid jade" might not be from Laozi. And, there is no well-known Chinese record showing the quote. It might actually be a mistranslation, due to the famouseness of Laozi in the Western world.

If you want to cite some Chinese classics about Tea. You can refer to The Classics of Tea (茶经 by 陆羽, http://a2tea.com/luyu/luyu12.php). It's actually the very book that made tea famous in China itself.

After the tea acquired a symbolic and cultural status due to the Classics of Tea, many poets wrote famous quotes about tea. Here are some of them. Hope they are helpful. :)

春风解恼诗人鼻,非叶非花自是香。 (杨万里)
寒夜客来茶当酒,竹炉汤沸火初红。 (杜耒) 
欲将西湖比西子,从来佳茗似佳人。 (苏轼)
蜀土茶称圣,蒙山味独珍。     (文同)  
长安酒价减千万,成都药市无光辉。 (范仲淹)  
黄金碾畔绿尘飞,碧玉瓯中翠涛起。 (范仲淹)

《答族侄僧中孚赠玉泉仙人掌茶并序》 〖唐〗 李白

《一言到七言诗》 〖唐〗 元稹
  • These are all good points. Laozi's philosophy is not really consonant with "tea appreciation", which (along with whipping the tea to make it frothy) probably dates from the Song Dynasty.
    – neubau
    Jun 6, 2014 at 2:05
  • Best answer we've had so far
    – Mou某
    Jun 6, 2014 at 3:16
  • Excellent research, Danke.
    – SEL
    Jun 6, 2014 at 8:07

Searching the dictionary at the Chinese Text Project offers some usage examples of 玉液 found in ancient Chinese literature, although I am unsure of the applicability in this case (maybe one of our native speakers or authoritative scholars might further elaborate on the sources presented below and at the website):

  • 《楚辭·疾世》: 吮玉液兮止渴,齧芝華兮療饑。 Show complete text 《抱朴子·微旨》:
  • 《抱朴子·微旨》: 長谷之山,杳杳巍巍,玄氣飄飄,玉液霏霏,金池紫房,在乎其隈,愚人妄往,至皆死歸,有道之士,登之不衰,採服黃精,以致天飛,此二山也。
  • 《藝文類聚·總載山》: 《宋謝莊山夜憂》曰:庭光盡,山明歸,流風乘軒卷,明月緣河飛,澗鳥鳴兮夜蟬清,橘露靡兮蕙煙輕,凌別浦兮值泉躍,經喬林兮遇猿驚,南皋別鶴佇行漢,東鄰孤管入青天,沉痾白髮共急日,朝露過隙詎賒年,年去兮髮不還,金膏玉液豈留顏,迴舲拓繩戶,收棹掩荊關。
  • 《西遊記·靈根育孕源流出 心性修持大道生》: 香桃爛杏,美甘甘似玉液瓊漿;脆李楊梅,酸蔭蔭如脂酥膏酪。
  • 《三國演義·玄德用計襲樊城,元直走馬薦諸葛》: 玄德請徐庶飲酒,庶曰:「今聞老母被囚,雖金波玉液不能下咽矣。」
  • 《金瓶梅·西門慶熱結十弟兄 武二郎冷遇親哥嫂》: 思飲酒真個瓊漿玉液,不數那琥珀杯流;要鬥氣錢可通神,果然是頤指氣使。
  • 《封神演義·雲中子進劍除妖》: 樓閣金輝來紫霧;交梨玉液駐朱顏。
  • 《太平御覽·仙經上》: 王君賜玄水玉液,絳日丹芝,可授齄弟齋戒三月而服之。
  • 《太平廣記·蘭公》: 第三塚有玉液丹,服之,白日便當冲翥。
  • 《紅樓夢·賈寶玉神遊太虛境 警幻仙曲演紅樓夢》: 正是:「瓊漿滿泛玻璃盞,玉液濃斟琥珀杯。」
  • 《全唐詩·與生公遊石窟山》: 猶希咽玉液,從此升雲空。
  • 3
    The sources here are classic novels like Hongloumeng, Song dynasty encyclopedias or Tang poetry - none of the above are nearly as old as Laozi. It's also hard to tell if any are referring to tea or not - the Jinpingmei quote is about wine at least!
    – neubau
    May 27, 2014 at 2:03

The only thing that I've found that is even remotely close is from a poem by 郭璞 (Guo Pu)




which contains the following line:


which has been translated as

Nurturing breath and liquid jade:

  • But 玉滋液 here refers to fog or water vapour, not tea.
    – user4086
    May 21, 2014 at 8:29
  • @user1551 hence my preface "The only thing that I've found that is even remotely close"
    – Mou某
    May 23, 2014 at 3:19

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