Legends of the origin of tea go as far back as 2700 BC.
It is said that a Chinese emperor was sitting under a tree when leaves fell into the pot of water he was boiling. He drank the water and found, to his surprise, that it made him feel uplifted and revitalized. He concluded that the leaves had caused this and so brought some back for further experimentation. This small incident triggered the beginning of tea drinking in China and in the world.
According to another legend, tea was discovered by a poor woodcutter who was chopping trees in the hills when he saw several monkeys plucking leaves off a tree and chewing them. He tasted some of the leaves, liked it and brought some back to the village. He told others of his discovery and soon, everyone was adding leaves from the tree to their drinks.
Tea history and culture
According to Lu Yu, the writer of the book Tea Classics in the Tang dynasty, Chinese tea enjoyed a more than 4000 years history.
Tea was used as offerings in the West Zhou, vegetables in the Spring and Autumn period, and medicine in the Warring period. Later in the West Han dynasty, it became a main commodity. During 300 years between the Three Kingdoms period and the Northern and Southern Dynasties, especially latter, Buddhism was popular and Buddhists applied tea to relieve sleep in Za-zen, so tea trees planted along valleys around temples. Till the Tang dynasty tea became popular in ordinary people. In the Ming dynasty, tea trade began to play an important role in the government economy, the "Tea and Horse Bureau" was set up to supervise the tea trade.
In the 6th century, a Buddhist monk introduced tea to Japan and in the 16th century to Europe by a Portuguese missionary. And tea became an international drink.
Now in China, tea family not only consists of traditional tea, but also tea beverage, tea food, tea medicine and other tea products.
Just as coffee in the West, tea became a part of daily life in China. You can see teahouses scattered on streets like cafes in the west. It has such a close relationship with Chinese that in recent years, a new branch of culture related to tea is rising up in China, which has a pleasant name of "Tea Culture". It includes the articles, poems, pictures about tea, the art of making and drinking tea, and some customs about tea.
In the Song dynasty, Lu You, who is known as "Tea Sage" wrote Tea Scripture, and detailed described the process of planting, harvesting, preparing, and making tea. Other famous poets such as Li Bai, Du Fu and Bai Juyi once created large number of poems about tea. Tang Bohu and Wen Zhengming even drew many pictures about tea.
Chinese are very critical about tea. People have high requirements about tea quality, water and tea wares. Normally, the finest tea is grown at altitudes of 3,000 to 7,000 feet (910 to 2,124m). People often use spring water, rain and snow water to make tea, among them the spring water and the rainwater in autumn are considered to be the best, besides rainwater in rain seasons is also perfect. Usually, Chinese will emphasis on water quality and water taste. Fine water must feature pure, sweet, cool, clean and flowing.
Chinese prefer pottery wares to others. The purple clay wares made from the Yixing, Jiangsu province and Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province are the best choice.
In China, there are customs about tea. A host will inject tea into teacup only seven tenth, and it is said the other three tenth will be filled with friendship and affection. Moreover, the teacup should be empty in three gulps. Tea plays an important role in Chinese emotional life.
Tea is always offered immediately to a guest in Chinese home. Serving a cup of tea is more than a matter of mere politeness; it is a symbol of togetherness, a sharing of something enjoyable and a way of showing respect to visitors. To not take at least a sip might be considered rude in some areas. In previous time, if the host held his teacup and said "please have tea", the guest will take his conge upon the suggestion to leave.
In China, people think different teas prefer different tea wares. Green tea prefers glass tea ware, scented tea porcelain ware while Oolong tea performs best in purple clay tea ware.
In its long history, tea wares not only improve tea quality but also by-produce a tea art. Skilled artisans bestow them artistic beauty.
Tea wares consist of mainly teapots, cups, tea bowls and trays etc. Tea wares had been used for a long time in China. The unglazed earthenware, used in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces for baking tea today, reminds us the earliest utensils used in ancient China. Tea drinking became more popular in the Tang dynasty when tea wares made of metals were served for noblesse and civilians commonly used porcelain ware and earthenware. In the Song dynasty tea bowls, like upturned bell, became common. They were glazed in black, dark-brown, gray, gray/white and white colors. Gray/white porcelain tea wares predominated in the Yuan dynasty and white glazed tea wares became popular in the Ming dynasty. Teapots made of porcelain and purple clay were very much in vogue during the middle of the Ming dynasty. Gilded multicolored porcelain produced in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province and the bodiless lacquer wares of Fujian Province emerged in the Qing dynasty. Among various kinds of tea wares, porcelain wares made in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province and purple clay wares made in Yixing, Jiangsu Province occupied the top places.
Nowadays, tea wares made of gold, silver, copper, purple clay, porcelain, glass, lacquer and other materials are available.
Although there are hundreds of varieties of Chinese tea, they can be mainly classified into five categories, that is, green tea, black tea, brick tea, scented tea, and Oolong tea.
With its natural fragrance, green tea, as the oldest kind of tea, is widely welcomed by different people. It is baked immediately after picking. According to the different ways of processing, it can be divided to many kinds. Among various green tea, Longjing (Dragon Well) Tea around the West Lake in Hangzhou, HuangshanMaofeng Tea from Mt. Huangshan, Yinzhen (Silver Needle) Tea from Mt. Junshan and Yunwu (Cloud and Mist) Tea from Mt. Lushan are most famous.
Black tea is much more favored by foreigners. Different from green tea, black tea is a kind of fermented tea. After the fermentation, its color changes from green to black. The most famous black teas in China are " Qi Hong (originated in Anhui), "Dian Hong"(originated in Yunnan), and "Ying Hong" (originated in Guangdong).
Oolong tea, with an excellent combination of the freshness of green tea and the fragrance of black tea, become popular with more and more people. It has a good function in helping body building and dieting. Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwan are the major producing areas of this kind of tea. Oolong tea grows on cliffs, the hard picking process make it the most precious tea.
Scented tea, which is very popular in Northern China, in fact is a mixture of green tea with flower petals of rose, jasmine, orchid and plum through an elaborate process. Among this type, jasmine tea is common.
Brick tea, usually pressed into brick shape, is mainly produced in Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan, Yunnan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Brick tea is made from black tea or green tea and is pressed into blocks. This kind of tea is popular with minority people in border regions. The most famous one is "Pu'er Tea" made in Yunnan province.
There are other kinds of tea. Among them white tea is special and is not very familiar to most people. Just as its name suggests, this kind of tea is as white as silver. It is mainly produced in Zhenhe and Fuding in Fujian Province, but popular in Southeast Asia. Famous varieties include "Silver Needle" and "White Peony".
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.
When I was in Chengdu, I saw teahouses everywhere on the streets. There is a saying,"China has the best teahouses in the world and Chengdu has the best teahouses in China." It really has a well-deserved reputation, not only because of the numerous teahouses, but also because the special way of serving
From ancient times to today, tea has been an indispensable part of the life of a Chinese. A Chinese saying identifies the seven basic daily necessities as fuel, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar, and tea. The custom of drinking tea is deeply ingrained in almost all Chinese and has been for over a thousand years. During the mid-Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), a man named Lu Yu entered the Buddhist monkhood early in life but returned when older, to secular life. He was later best known for summarizing the knowledge and experience of his predecessors and contemporaries into the first compendium in the world on tea--the Tea Classic (Cha Jing). This work helped to popularize the art of tea drinking all across China, making avid tea drinkers of everyone from emperor and minister to street hawker and soldier. Even neighboring countries--Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia came to adopt the tea drinking custom.
Tea is made from the young, tender leaves of the tea tree. The differences among the many kinds of tea available are based on the particular methods used to process the leaves. The key to the whole process is the roasting and fermentation. Through fermentation, the originally deep green leaves become reddish-brown in color. The longer the fermentation, the darker the color. Depending on the length of the roasting and degree of fermentation, the fragrance can range from floral, to fruity, to malty.
Tea that has not been fermented is called "green tea". Tea steeped from green tea leaves is jade green to yellow-green in color and gives off the fragrance of fresh vegetables. Examples of green tea are "Dragon Well" (Long Jing) and "Green Snail Spring" (Biluochun).
The Chinese call tea that undergoes full fermentation "red tea" (Hong Cha). In the West, it is known as "black tea". Tea made from black tea leaves is reddish-brown in color and has a malt-like aroma. Wulong, or "Black Dragon" (Wu-Long) tea is an example of a partially-fermented tea. This tea is unique to China.
To make a good pot of tea, special attention must be paid to the quality of the water, water temperature, the amount of tea leaves used and the type of teapot. Soft water (water with a low mineral content) that is clear and fresh is required to steep tea. Hard water should, by all means, be avoided. The correct water temperature varies from tea to tea. For most fully fermented and moderately fermented kinds, it should be near boiling (100 or 212); however, it may be low as 90 (194) or less for lightly fermented or green teas.
Of the three major beverages of the world-- tea, coffee and cocoa-- tea is consumed by the largest number of people.
At present, more than forty countries in the world grow tea with Asian countries producing 90% of the world's total output. The origin of all tea trees in other countries, either directly or indirectly, is China. The words for tea leaves 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 pronounced in northern China. 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 slightly different. The habit of tea drinking spread to Japan in the 6th century but 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 still increasing.
The Categories of Tea
Chinese tea may be classified into five categories according to the different methods of processing.
1) Green Tea: Green tea is the variety which keeps the original color of the tea leaves without fermentation during processing. This category consists mainly of Longjing tea of Zhejiang Province, Maofeng of Huangshan Mountain in Anhui Province and Biluochun produced in Jiangsu.
2) Black Tea: Black tea, known as "red tea" (hong cha) in China, is the category which is fermented before baking. It is a later variety developed on the basis of the green tea. The best brands of black tea are Qihong of Anhui , Dianhong of Yunnan, Suhong of Jiangsu, Chuanhong of Sichuan and Huhong of Hunan.
3) Wulong Tea: This represents a variety half way between the green and the blackteas, being made after partial fermentation. It is a specialty from the provinces on China's southeast coast: Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwan.
4) Compressed Tea: This is the kind of tea which is compressed and hardened into a certain shape. It is good for transporting and storage and is mainly supplied to ethnic minorities living in the border areas of the country. As compressed tea is black in color in its commercial form, it is also known in China as "black tea". Most of the compressed tea is in the form of bricks; therefore, generally called "brick tea" though it is sometimes found in the form of cakes and bowls. It is mainly produced in Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.
5) Scented Tea: This kind of tea is made by mixing fragrant flowers in the tea leaves in the course of processing. 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.
A new tea plant must grow for five years before its leaves can be picked. 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 .
To fertilize tea gardens, soybean cakes or other varieties of organic manure are generally used; seldom chemical fertilizers. When pests are discovered, the affected plants will be removed to prevent spreading 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 at the end of March and lasts through October, with a total of 20-30 pickings from the same plants at intervals of seven to ten days. Longer interval cause the quality of the tea to deteriorate.
A skilled picker can gather only 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 25 degrees C. or 74 degrees F. 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 old days, Dragon Well tea of this grade was meant solely for the imperial household and therefore known as "tribute tea".
For the processes of grinding, parching, rolling, shaping and drying other grades of tea, various machines have been developed, turning out about 100 kilograms of finished tea an hour and relieving the workers from much of the drudgery.
Areas in China where tea grows
1) The Jiangnan area: Lies south of the mid 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.
2) The Jiangbei area: Refers to a large area north of the same river, where the average temperature is 2-3 degrees Centigrade lower than in the Jiangnan area. Green tea is the principal variety turned out there. Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, which are also parts of this area, produce compressed tea to supply the minority areas in the Northwest.
3) The Southwest area: 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.
4) 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. 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 cup of tea.
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.