When you think of Chinese tea, green tea and now
increasingly often, white tea, springs to mind. However, black tea,
also known as red tea, is just as much a staple tea in some regions
of the country. Not only that, there exists a very common roast that
is classified as both green and red.
All teas come from the Camellia Sinensis plant. The differences
between the types of tea are determined by the processing method,
where the tea plant is grown and also by the appearance and taste of
the infused tea.
The length of time leaves are fermented determines the color, taste,
aroma and character of the tea.
The longer leaves are roasted, the darker the color. The less the
leaves are fermented and roasted, the more natural the taste of the
tea. Black teas are fermented and green teas are not.
Chinese teas can be categorized into four different groups: green,
black, oolong (which is semi-fermented and thus is considered as
both a green and red tea) and finally flower-scented teas known as
Chrysanthemum "tea," on the other hand, contains no tea leaves at all,
but instead is an infusion of dried chrysanthemum flowers alone.
Shennong, whose name literally means the Divine Farmer and who is
considered as the ancient Chinese Father of Agriculture, is honored
with the discovery of tea. According to legend, one fall afternoon,
Shennong decided to take a rest under a Camellia tree and boiled
some water to drink. According to the story, dried leaves from the
tree above floated down into the pot of boiling water and infused a
pot of tea, marking the first ever infusion of the tea leaf.
Intrigued by the delightful fragrance, Shennong took a sip and
thought it refreshing.
Since Shennong's discovery, tea has been grown and enjoyed
throughout the world.
As the caffeinated drink that kept monks awake during long hours of
meditation, tea proved to be a popular beverage in Buddhist
monasteries. For this reason, many monasteries cultivated vast tea
fields. Lu Yu, author of The Book of Tea, was an orphan brought up
and educated in a monastery. It is likely that his experience
growing up surrounded by tea led to the writing of his classic
during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). In The Book of Tea, Lu Yu
recorded a detailed account of ways to cultivate and prepare tea,
tea drinking customs, the best water for tea brewing and the
classifications of tea.
During the Sui Dynasty (581-618), tea was taken for its medicinal
qualities. In the fourth and fifth centuries, rice, salt, spices,
ginger and orange peel, among other ingredients, were added to tea.
In the Tang Dynasty, tea drinking became an art form and at the same
time a drink enjoyed by all social classes. Whipped powdered tea
became fashionable during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), but
disappeared completely from Chinese culture after the Yuan Dynasty
(1279-1368), when many other aspects of Song culture were erased due
to foreign rule. Chinese people became accustomed to drinking
steeped tea from the Yuan Dynasty onward and continue to drink it
this way to today.
In Beijing, Chrysanthemum tea is most commonly offered in
restaurants, either complimentary or for a price. At dim sum
restaurants, a variety of teas are offered, but the classic southern
black teas traditionally served with dim sum are strong and
medicinal, such as Pu'er, or light and fragrant, such as Jasmine, or
In the southeast provinces like Fujian and Guangdong are known for
their production of oolong teas and while it is offered in
restaurants to accompany meals, it is also a nice tea to be enjoyed
slowly in teashops along with nibbles.
In the south and northwest, brick teas are standard fare for
Tibetans, Mongolians and Uyghurs. Brick tea is black tea that comes
in a variety of compacted forms, such as bricks, cones, or discs.
This compacted form was convenient for tea traders and nomads as it
was easy to transport.
After a rich meal, there is nothing like a hot and slightly bitter
cup of tea, drunk unadorned, each sip savored for the pure taste
that steeps from the tea leaves sitting on the bottom of your cup.
Choosing a tea to go with your meal or book in a tea house, is in
itself a joy and the choices are endless.
Types of tea
Bilochun (Green Snail Spring)
From Suzhou's Taihu Lake and the west side of Dongtingshan in
Jiangsu; curled leaves made from small early spring tea leaves. This
tea has a grassy fragrance and a very light, sweet taste.
Qihong from Anhui; this is a velvet-smooth tea with a delicate aroma
and a mellow flavor.
Yunnan black tea; was first produced over 1,500 years ago making it
one of the oldest teas. This strong tea yields an amber-like cup.
Longjing (Dragon Well)
From Xihu and Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province; flattened,
sparrow-tongue shaped and smooth tea leaves the brew a soft, pale
green, tinged with gold. Longjing is the most aromatic green tea
with a sweet and mellow taste that is slightly grassy.
Maofeng from Anhui; Maofeng teas have a broad, flat shape and a
sword-like curve from tip to end. It tastes light and subtle.
Large-leafed tea gathered from trees that thrive in Yunnan
Province's varying climate and acidic soil. Famous as a medicinal
tea, it is believed that to aid digestion, reduce cholesterol, lower
blood pres-sure, reinforce the immune system and help to prevent the
formation of cancer cells. The smooth dark Pu'er tea has a rich and
distinctively earthy flavor.
Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess)
It is one of the best-known teas, named after Kuanyin, the Goddess
of Mercy. This tea is darker, as it is roasted for 11 hours and
further roasted for a few more hours over charcoal. It has a very
distinctive roasted aroma with a woody and robust flavor.
Oolong (Black Dragon)
It has a mixed personality of green tea - clear and fragrant and
strong and refreshing as black tea, as well as a long after taste
that lingers in your mouth. Dongding oolong tea from Taiwan, is the
most prized oolong tea for its quality and aroma.
(Source: Global Times)