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An Introduction to Chinese Tea

 
China is the homeland of tea. Different types of tea such as Wulong (Wu-long or Oolong), green te and black tea are consumed by it's population on daily basis. It is believed that China has tea-shrubs as early as five to six thousand years ago, and human cultivation of tea plants dates back two thousand years. Tea from China, along with her silk and porcelain, began to be known the world over more than a thousand years ago and has since always been an important Chinese export. At present more than forty countries in the world grow tea with Asian countries producing 90% of the world's total output. All tea trees in other countries have their origin directly or indirectly in China. The words for tealeaves or tea as a drink in many countries are derivatives from the Chinese character "cha." The Russians call it "cha'i", which sounds like "chaye" (tea leaves) as it is pronounced in northern China, and the English word "tea" sounds similar to the pronunciation of its counterpart in Xiamen (Amoy). The Japanese character for tea is written exactly the same as it is in Chinese, though pronounced with a slight difference. The habit of tea drinking spread to Japan in the 6th century, but it was not introduced to Europe and America till the 17th and 18th centuries. Now the number of tea drinkers in the world is legion and is still on the increase.

People throughout China drink tea daily. Because of the geographic location and climate, different places grow various kinds of tea. The most conspicuous content in China's tea culture is the popular phrase "Ke Lai jin Cha" which means when a guest arrives, a cup of tea will be brewed for him. In the past dynasties, people not only formed a special way of tea-drinking, but also developed an art form called tea-drinking. This art form comprises of many aspects. The most noticeable ones are the making of tea, the way of brewing, the drinking utensils such as tea pot. Tea drinking is so popular in every part of the country that there is a museum specially dedicated to the tea culture in China. It is located in Hangzhou, the hometown of Longjin Tea (dragon well tea). In Hangzhou, there is a tea museum, the only national museum of its kind. In it, there are detailed description of the historic development of tea, making and brewing methods and the like.

Chinese Tea Classifications

Although there are hundreds of varieties of Chinese tea, they can mainly be classified into five categories. The classifications are determined by the method of processing the tea. The five types are green tea, black tea, brick tea, scented tea, and Wulong / Wu-long (Oolong) tea.

Green Tea:

Green Tea is the most natural of all Chinese tea classes. It's picked, natural dried, and then fried briefly (a process called "killing the green") to get rid of it's grassy smell. Fermentation process is skipped. Green Tea has the most medical value and the least caffeine content of all Chinese tea classes. Aroma is medium to high, flavor is light to medium. About 50% of China's teas is Green tea.

Black Tea:

Chinese Black tea produces a full-bodies amber when brewed. Black tea undergoes withering (drying), left to ferment for a long while, and then roasted. Black tea leaves become completely oxidized after processing. 
Black tea has a robust taste with a mild aroma. It contains the highest amount of caffeine in Chinese tea classes.

Brick Tea (Compressed Tea)

Most Chinese Compressed Tea uses Black Tea as base tea. It's steamed and compressed into bricks, cakes, columns and other shapes. 
Compressed Tea has all the characteristics of Black Tea. It can be stored for years and decades. Aged Compressed Tea has a tamed flavor that Compressed Tea fans would pay huge price for.

Scented/Flower Tea

Chinese Flower Tea is an unique class of Chinese tea. It subdivides into Flower Tea and Scented Tea. 
Flower Tea is a simple concept that dried flowers are used, without much processing, to make tea. Scented Tea uses green tea, red tea as base and mix with scent of flowers.
Chinese Flower Tea has light to medium flavor and medium to strong aroma.

Wulong Tea / Wu-long (Oolong Tea)

Wulong / Wu-long tea, which combines the freshness of green tea and the fragrance of black tea, is becoming popular with more and more people. A good Wulong is both refreshing and delicious; the Wulong spectrum has a range of aromas and tastes quite distinct from anything you get with green or black tea. It is also popular for its medical benefits, including assisting the body building process and in dieting. Like other tea, Wulong is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols. These help prevent cancer, keep the heart healthy and aid general well-being. Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwan are the major producers of this kind of tea. Wulong tea grows on cliffs. Harvesting this type of tea is very difficult, which makes it the most precious. Wulong tea is gaining popularity in China, and Wulong tea in soft bottle packaging can be easily purchased.

Tea Production 

A new tea-plant must grow for five years before its leaves can be picked and, at 30 years of age, it will be too old to be productive. The trunk of the old plant must then be cut off to force new stems to grow out of the roots in the coming year. By repeated rehabilitation in this way, a plant may serve for about l00 years.

For the fertilization of tea gardens, soya-bean cakes or other varieties of organic manure are generally used, and seldom chemical fertilizers. When pests are discovered, the affected plants will be removed to prevent their spread, and also to avoid the use of pesticides. 
The season of tea-picking depends on local climate and varies from area to area. On the shores of West Lake in Hangzhou, where the famous green tea Longjing (Dragon Well) comes from, picking starts from the end of March and lasts through October, altogether 20-30 times from the same plants at intervals of seven to ten days. With a longer interval, the quality of the tea will deteriorate. 

A skilled woman picker can only gather 600 grams (a little over a pound) of green tea leaves in a day. 

The new leaves must be parched in tea cauldrons. This work , which used to be done manually, has been largely mechanized. Top-grade Dragon Well tea, however, still has to be stir-parched by hand, doing only 250 grams every half hour. The tea-cauldrons are heated electrically to a temperature of about 25oC or 74oF. It takes four pounds of fresh leaves to produce one pound of parched tea. 

The best Dragon Well tea is gathered several days before Qingming (Pure Brightness, 5th solar term) when new twigs have just begun to grow and carry "one leaf and a bud." To make one kilogram (2.2 lbs) of finished tea, 60, 000 tender leaves have to be plucked. In the old days Dragon Well tea of this grade was meant solely for the imperial household; it was, therefore, known as "tribute tea". 

For the processes of grinding, parching, rolling, shaping and drying other grades of tea various machines have been developed and built, turning out about 100 kilograms of finished tea an hour and relieving the workers from much of their drudgery.

Scented tea

This kind of tea is made by mixing fragrant flowers in the tea leaves in the course of processing. The flowers commonly used for this purpose are jasmine and magnolia among others. Jasmine tea is a well-known favorite with the northerners of China and with a growing number of foreigners.

Advantages of Tea-Drinking

Tea has been one of the daily necessities in China since time immemorial. Countless numbers of people like to have their after meal tea.

In summer or warm climate, tea seems to dispel the heat and bring on instant cool together with a feeling of relaxation. For this reason, tea-houses abound in towns and market villages in South China and provide elderly retirees with the locales to meet and chat over a cup of tea.

Medically, the tea leaf contains a number of chemicals, of which 20-30% is tannic acid, known for its anti-inflammatory and germicidal properties. It also contains an alkaloid (5%, mainly caffeine), a stimulant for the nerve centre and the process of metabolism. Tea with the aromatics in it may help resolve meat and fat and thus promote digestion. It is, therefore, of special importance to people who live mainly on meat, like many of the ethnic minorities in China. A popular proverb among them says, "Rather go without salt for three days than without tea for a single day."

Tea is also rich in various vitamins and, for smokers, it helps to discharge nicotine out of the system. After wining, strong tea may prove to be a sobering pick-me-up.

The above, however, does not go to say that the stronger the tea, the more advantages it will yield. Too much tannic acid will affect the secretion of the gastric juice, irritate the membrane of the stomach and cause indigestion or constipation. Strong tea taken just before bedtime will give rise to occasional insomnia. Constant drinking of over-strong tea may induce heart and blood-pressure disorders in some people, reduce the milk of a breast-feeding mother, and put a brown color on the teeth of young people. But it is not difficult to ward off these undesirable effects: just don't make your tea too strong.

Tea Production

A new tea-plant must grow for five years before its leaves can be picked and, at 30 years of age, it will be too old to be productive. The trunk of the old plant must then be cut off to force new stems to grow out of the roots in the coming year. By repeated rehabilitation in this way, a plant may serve for about l00 years .

For the fertilization of tea gardens, Soya-bean cakes or other varieties of organic manure are generally used, and seldom chemical fertilizers. When pests are discovered, the affected plants will be removed to prevent their spread, and also to avoid the use of pesticides.

The season of tea-picking depends on local climate and varies from area to area. On the shores of West Lake in Hangzhou, where the famous green tea Longjing (Dragon Well) comes from, picking starts from the end of March and lasts through October, altogether 20-30 times from the same plants at intervals of seven to ten days. With a longer interval, the quality of the tea will deteriorate.

A skilled woman picker can only gather 600 grams (a little over a pound) of green tea leaves in a day.

The new leaves must be parched in tea cauldrons. This work , which used to be done manually, has been largely mechanized. Top-grade Dragon Well tea, however, still has to be stir-parched by hand, doing only 250 grams every half hour. The tea-cauldrons are heated electrically to a temperature of about 25oC or 74oF. It takes four pounds of fresh leaves to produce one pound of parched tea.

The best Dragon Well tea is gathered several days before Qingming (Pure Brightness, 5th solar term) when new twigs have just begun to grow and carry "one leaf and a bud." To make one kilogram (2.2 lbs) of finished tea, 60, 000 tender leaves have to be plucked. In the old days Dragon Well tea of this grade was meant solely for the imperial household; it was, therefore, known as "tribute tea".

For the processes of grinding, parching, rolling, shaping and drying other grades of tea various machines have been developed and built, turning out about 100 kilograms of finished tea an hour and relieving the workers from much of their drudgery.

Tea-Producing Areas

Tea is produced in vast areas of China from Hainan lsland down in the extreme south to Shandong Province in the north, from Tibet in the southwest to Taiwan across the Straits, totaling more than 20 provinces. These may be divided into four major areas:

The Jiangnan area

It lies south of the middle and lower reaches of the Changjiang (Yangtze) River, and is the most prolific of China's tea-growing areas. Most of its output is the green variety; some black tea is also produced.

The Jiangbei area

This refers to a large area north of the same river, where the average temperature is 2-3 Centigrade degrees lower than in the Jiangnan area. Green tea is the principal variety turned out there, but Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, which are also parts of this area. produce compressed tea for supply to the minority areas in the Northwest.

The Southwest area

This embraces Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou and Tibet, producing black, green as well as compressed teas. Pu'er tea of Yunnan Province enjoys a good sale in China and abroad.

The Lingnan area

This area , consisting of the southern provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian and taiwan, produces Wulong tea, which is renowned both at home and abroad

Best Ten Chinese teas

Longjing (Dragon Well): Produced at Longjing village near the West Lake, Hangzhou, Zhejiang.

Biluochun: Produced at Wu County, Jiangsu.

Huangshanmaofeng: Produced at Mt. Huangshan in Anhui.

Junshan Silver Needle: Produced at Qingluo Island on Dongting Lake.

Qimen Black Tea: Produced at Qimen County in Anhui.

Liuan Guapian: Produced at Liuan County in Henan.

Xinyang Maojian: Produced at Xinyang, Henan.

Duyun Maojian: Produced at Duyun Mountain, Guizhou.

Wuyi Rock Tea: Produced at Wuyi Mountain, Fujian.

Tieguanyin: Produced at Anxi County, Fujian.

In summer or in warm climates, tea seems to dispel the heat and bring on instant cool together with a feeling of relaxation. For this reason, tea-houses abound in towns and market villages in South China and provide elderly retirees with the locales to meet and chat over a cup of tea.

Medically, the tea leaf contains a number of chemicals, of which 20-30% is tannic acid, known for its anti-inflammatory and germicidal properties. It also contains an alkaloid (5%, mainly caffeine), a stimulant for the nerve center and the process of metabolism. Tea with aromatics in it may help resolve meat and fat and thus promote digestion. It is therefore, of special importance to people who live mainly on meat, like many of the ethnic minorities in China. A popular proverb among them says, "Rather go without salt for three days than without tea for a single day".

Tea is also rich in various vitamins and helps smokers discharge nicotine from their systems. After "wining", strong tea may prove to be a sobering pick-me-up. However, this does not mean that the stronger the tea, the more advantages it will yield. Too much tannic acid will affect the secretion of gastric juice, irritate the membrane of the stomach and cause indigestion or constipation. Strong tea taken just before bedtime will give rise to occasional insomnia. Constant drinking of overly strong tea may induce heart and blood-pressure disorders in some people, reduce the milk of a breast-feeding mother and put a brown color on the teeth of young people. It's not difficult, however, to ward off these undesirable effects-simply don't make your tea too strong.

 Chinese Tea Culture:

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