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Chinese Tea

Chinese Tea By Eileen Wen Mooney
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 huacha.

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 xiangpian.

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)


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