Chinese Tea Culture 中国茶文化
I love drinking tea. China has a tea culture of thousands of years. According to legend, tea was first discovered by the Chinese emperor and herbalist, whose name was Shennong in 2737 BCE. The nobility considered the consumption of good tea as a mark of their Status and scholars hailed the brew as a cure for a variety of ailments. This is why tea also plays an important role in traditional Chinese medicine.
The Chinese have a saying: ‘Firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce, vinegar and tea are the seven necessities to begin a day.’ Even though tea is listed at the very end, you can see that the Chinese put great emphasis on the consumption of tea in daily life.
Different Types of Tea
There are many different types of tea native to China. Chinese tea can be categorized into five different types: green tea, black tea, oolong tea, white tea and post-fermented tea. Each category does also have various sub-categories.
Green tea leaves are light to dark green in color and brew into a light green infusion. It undergoes minimal oxidation during processing and its raw tea leaves are heated, rolled and dried without fermentation. Because of this, the leaves can keep their original color and retain their naturally occurring antioxidants, which is said to help reduce the risk of cancer and slow down the aging process.
Green tea has a longer history than the other types and is thus the most popular tea in China. Additionally, China is the world’s largest green tea exporter, comprising more than 80 percent of the global market.
In general, green tea is produced all over China. Some of the most famous varieties include Dragon Well (Longjing) from Zhejiang, Biluochun from Jiangsu and Huangshan Maofeng from Anhui Province.
The leaves producing black tea have undergone full fermentation before baking. Be aware that in Chinese black tea is actually called “red tea” (红茶). This type is characterized by a light brown infusion.
Even though green tea has recently experienced a revival due to its health benefits, black tea still accounts for over ninety percent of all tea sold in the West. It is also the most popular form of tea consumed in south Asia.
The best brands of black tea from China are Qimen Hong from Anhui, Dian Hong from Yunnan, Chuan Hong from Sichuan and Hu Hong from Hunan Province.
Oolong tea is a specialty from southeastern China, native to the provinces of Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwan. Its taste is clear and fragrant like green tea and as strong and refreshing as black tea. High-quality oolong teas have a long aftertaste in the mouth.
Additionally, Oolong tea is quite potent in breaking down protein and fat, aiding weight loss. This tea enjoys a great reputation and popularity in Japan.
Tieguanyin and WuYi Yancha from Fujian as well as Dongding oolong tea from Taiwan are among the most prized oolong teas.
White tea received its name from the white-colored appearance of the dry tea. The variety is made with uncured buds and young leaves of some tea cultivars from southeast China’s Fujian Province. Those buds and leaves go through minimal processing so that they are kept closer to their natural state. Even the silvery-white hairs on the leaves are preserved, which gives the dry tea a whitish appearance.
Young tea leaves contain a higher percentage of caffeine than older ones, so the caffeine content of white tea may be higher than that of green tea. The tea has also sold well in the US ever since American scientists confirmed the health benefits of white tea.
White tea is a specialty of Fujian Province. Well-known brands of white tea are Bai Hao Yinzhen, Bai Mu Dan, Gong Mei and Shou Mei.
This type tea is made with tea leaves that have undergone a long period of fermentation after they are fried and rolled. Only a Tea Master is capable of producing this type of tea. After the unique process, which is kept a closely-guarded secret, the finished tea takes on a dark brown color.
Similar to wine and unlike other teas, post-fermented tea can actually be aged to improve its flavor. Aged tea, especially Pu-Er tea from southwest China’s Yunnan Province, is rare and extremely valuable. In the past, post-fermented tea was the most exported tea in China and it is also the most popular tea in areas of China with large ethnic minority populations. People from Tibetan, Mongolian and Uyghur ethnic groups consider post-fermented tea an essential part of their daily lives.
The most famous brand of this variety is the Pu’er Tea from southwest China’s Yunnan Province. The large-leafed tea is gathered from trees that thrive in Yunnan’s varying climate and acidic soil.
Scented teas as usually known as “flower teas” and are made by mixing a base tea — most commonly a green tea, and sometimes a black or oolong tea — with flower petals or blossoms. Popular flowers used include jasmine, osmanthus, chrysanthemum, lotus and rose.
Jasmine tea, among others, is the most popular type of scented tea in northern China. When it is infused, Jasmine tea produces a bright yellow-green liquid with a strong, long-lasting floral fragrance. Jasmine tea is also my favorite type of tea.
Tea House and Tea Ceremony
A tea house (茶館, cháguăn or 茶屋, cháwū) is traditionally similar to an American cafe offering tea rather than coffee. People gather at tea houses to chat, socialize, and enjoy tea, and young people often meet at tea houses for dates. The Guangdong (Cantonese) style tea house is particularly famous outside of China. These tea houses, called chálou (茶樓) serve dim sum (點心).
A tea ceremony is a Chinese cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of tea
leaf. The manner in which it is performed, or the art of its performance is shown in the tea ceremony. You can also refer to the whole set of rituals, tools, gestures, etc. used in such ceremonies as tea culture. All of these tea ceremonies and rituals contain “an adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday life”, as well as refinement, an inner spiritual content, humility, restraint and simplicity “as all arts that partake the extraordinary, an artistic artificiality, abstractness, symbolism and formalism” to one degree or another.
Traditional Chinese weddings also feature a tea ceremony carried out by bride and groom.
If you are offered tea in a tea house or Chinese home, be sure to always tap your two fingers (index and middle finger) when the host is pouring your tea. This shows respect and comes from a story of ancient China.
This custom is said to have originated in the Qing Dynasty when Emperor Qian Long would travel in disguise through the empire. Servants were told not to reveal their master’s identity. One day in a restaurant, the emperor, after pouring himself a cup of tea, filled a servant’s cup as well. To that servant it was a huge honour to have the emperor pour him a cup of tea. Out of reflex he wanted to kneel and express his thanks. He could not kneel to the emperor since that would reveal the emperor’s identity so he bent his fingers on the table to express his gratitude and respect to the emperor.