‘Firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce, vinegar and tea
are the seven necessities to begin a day.’
– Chinese proverb
1.History of Tea in China
The people of China have enjoyed the sumptuous act of drinking tea for over 4000 years. It is traced back to being consumed for the first time by accident. The story goes like this – legend has it that Yan Di, one of the 3 most influential rulers of ancient times, used to constantly taste different herbs to test if they had any medicinal properties.
During this process, he was suddenly poisoned by one of the herbs he had ingested. However, drops of water from a tea tree happened to drip into his mouth. And he was cured! Thanks to this discovery, tea suddenly had a purpose. It was used as herbal medicine for years to come.
Later on, in the Western Zhou Dynasty, tea was also used in religious offerings. People even began to eat tea (especially around spring and autumn time), and used fresh tea leaves in their cooking, just as you’d use any other vegetable. It was around this time that Buddhism started getting popular – and tea was inculcated into Za-Zen meditations by monks. It became a favourite and travelled all over the 3 kingdoms and Northern & Southern dynasties. The love affair had begun.
All through the Tang Dynasty, tea was the most popular drink at the table. Tea shops started to show up everywhere. It was during this time that Lu Yu, the Tea Sage of China, wrote a book that quickly became the cornerstone of Chinese Tea culture. The book mapped out all the details and rules about cultivating, tasting, processing tea – including fertile areas for growing tea, the history of tea strains, tea quotes, which tea’s to use on occasions and other tea records and comments from tea masters. It was the first unintentional encyclopedia on tea.
The Song and Ming Dynasty’s came rolling in, and they were full of style and culture. Tea became even more refined at this time, and elements such as delicate notes, flavours, palate intensity were focused on. This brought in many new skills and many different ways to enjoy tea. This was when the foundation for tea processing, tea types and drinking styles were laid, and we inherit and use these ideals till today
2.Tea Culture in China
Aurelie is a tea expert at the esteemed Palais des Thes, a tea production company based in France. She has trained her palette to find tea’s that enhance the flavour of the food in your mouth, so you can access different layers of taste. They also conduct courses and classes in tea tasting.
In China, even a simple meal is finished off with tea. Their entire lives revolve around this herb in some form or another. For the Chinese, tea drinking and tasting are not the same. They are vastly different and have split cultural meanings. Tea drinking is for refreshment & a tonic effect, whereas Tea tasting has cultural & spiritual meaning. Tea and tea wares should match surrounding elements such as breeze, bright moon, pines, bamboo, plums and snow. All these show the ultimate goal of Chinese culture: the harmonious unity of human beings with nature.
Tea is also compared to personal character in China. Its fragrance is not aggressive; it is pleasant, low-keyed and lasting. A friendship between gentlemen should be like a cup of tea, in their notions. With a cup of tea in hand, enjoying the green leaves in a white porcelain cup, you will feel peace. Fame, wealth and other earthly concerns dissipate. It is the highest form of elegance.
Tea is regarded as the most Zen-like drink, and for good reason. The simplicity of a cup of tea is meant to clear up the perceived inequality among monks. They believed that we are all born equal and soft, just like tea. Perhaps this is why so much ancient Chinese literature, poetry and art revolves around this herb.
In one book, we hear of a nun named Miao Yu, who would treat her loved ones to the most beautiful cups of tea. She would brew the tea in water that was collected from mountain rainwater, or snow water collected from the icy dew of plum blossoms! These practises added subtle notes that would elevate the taste to new heights.
The Chinese are fascinated with tea due its mysterious but harmonious dichotomy. It is spiritual as well as material, invigorating as well as pacifying. Its character is flexible in different environments, and yet steadfast and comforting. For instance, as it goes in a different direction, a different tea culture is formed. Due to this creative adaptability, tea-drinking habits vary in different parts of China. Scented, aromatic tea is popular in northern China; Green tea is preferred in eastern China, and Black tea is preferred by people in Fujian and Guangdong.
3.Chinese Tea Classification
There is no true agreement on the classification of tea. It can be classified by procedure, quality, preparation methods, and so on. To keep it simple, we have tried to classify it by the method of processing.
It is the most popular in most places in China. It is the best drink for sultry summers as it is cool and fights off inflammation, or relieves fever. The temperature of water should be varied according to the type of green tea. Generally, water temperature of 85 Celsius degree is the best. Well known ones include Longjing from the West Lake, Biluochun from Wu County, Suzhuo, Jiangsu Province, Huangshan Maofeng from Mt. Huangshan in Anhui, and Junshan Silver from the Hills of Junshan, Dongting Lake , Hunan Province. The tonic effect of green tea has long been known. Its radiation-resistance effect makes it a top choice for people who sit before computers for long hours. Since it reportedly helps keep one fit and has a whitening effect on skin color, women prefer it.
5 .Black Tea
Black tea is fermented tea. Unlike green tea, it does not lose its fragrance easily so it is suitable for long-distance transportation. This may explain why it was exported to the West. It is believed to warm the stomach and is good in autumn and winter.
Qihong from China, Darjeeling from India and Uva from Sri Lanka are the world’s three major types of black tea. The most Chinese strains include Qi Hong, Dian Hong and Ying Hong. Qi Hong has been the favorite black tea among Chinese black tea connoisseurs since it was developed in 1876. By 1939 this type accounted for one-third of black tea consumed in China. Dian Hong is from Yunnan as Dian is the short name for Yunnan. The area’s favorable climate ensures the widespread production of black tea. Ying Hong is from Yingde, Guangdong. The British royal family enjoyed its unique sweetness with the flavor of milk.
When you say Oolong tea, it immediately brings up gongfu tea to Tea Masters. This features a whole set of tea wares from a small oven to a pot and tiny cups, where tea is slowly, carefully poured into tiny cups one by one. Perhaps this is why Gongfu literally means skill. In China, the mellowness of oolong tea is a metaphor of well friendship that is strengthened as time passes by. The three major oolong growth areas are Fujian, Guangdong, and Taiwan.
7. Brick Tea – Pu erh Tea
Tea compressed into the shape of brick is called brick tea, and is very popular among the Tibetan, Mongolian and Uigur for making yak butter tea or milk tea. For nomads, it is easy to transport. There are many places in China producing brick tea, including Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan, Yunnan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Sichuan is the largest producer, while pu erh tea is grown in Yunnan province. Pu erh has come into vogue among white-collar workers in major cities owing to its unique earthy mellowness.
8. Scented Tea
Scented tea is a mixture of flowers with green tea, black tea or oolong tea. The flowers include jasmine, orchid, plum, gardenia, rose, and sweet-scented osmanthus with jasmine being the most popular. There are strict rules about the proportion of flowers to tea. If there are too many flowers, the scent of flowers will dilute that of tea; if too few, the tea is not perfect. Scented tea is sweet, pleasant and delightful to the palate. Fuzhou in Fujian Province and Suzhou in Jiangsu Province have long been famous for jasmine tea.
Today, China and tea are synonymous. It is found in every home, every dwelling – from small mud huts to tall arching skyscrapers. They are symbols of friendship. Guests, friends or business acquaintances alike, regardless of the relationship, sit down and drink tea together while talking.
We don’t know about you, but that’s got us running to brew some Longjing tea!
Have any fun facts or travel stories about China? Do let us know and we’d love to share them with everyone else to enjoy too.
Till then, do feel free to browse our online store for a plethora of teas handcrafted here in India. We’ve picked only the very best for all your steeping needs!
Yours, one cup at at time,
The Karma Kettle Team.