Compressed Tea Bricks
Tea Bricks, or compressed tea, is a Chinese invention antedating the T'ang Dynasty: Tea had been compressed into cakes long before Lu Yu published the Ch'a Ching circa 780. Under the Ming, loose-leaf tea became popular throughout the Celestial Empire, but the inland tribes of Mongolia and Tibet clung to the tastes of former days. The Chinese, who had also evolved the earliest central banking system and were circulating various coins and paper bank notes, found that in commercial transactions with the border peoples their currency had no value. Their ingenious solution to this problem was to make their most valued consumer product - tea - into bricks. This made the tea easy to transport inland where it was used as a form of currency for barter, the reverse side of each brick being scored so that it was easily broken for purposes of making change. Traditionally enjoyed with yak butter and salt!