China is the country with the longest history of tea in the world and tea has a central role in the culture - where else in the world does someone ask “have you had tea yet?” before even saying hello. From its legendary discover by Shen Nung in 2737 B.C., tea has been an indispensable drink. According to the Ch’a Ching, The Classic of Tea, written in the eighth century, tea was used as a medicinal before it became more widely consumed as a beverage. During the Sui Dynasty (581-617 A.D.), tea was first consumed more for its taste than its medicinal benefits. Made into bricks, it was also used during this time as currency. The scarcity of tea leaves restricted consumption of tea to royalty and wealthy elders at first, but by the T’ang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) tea had become popular with poets, scholars and artists. Every aspect of tea was refined, teapots were introduced and tea became the customary symbol of social grace during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.).
The art of drinking and serving tea plays a major cultural role in China. A cup of oolong or green tea is the customary way to welcome a guest and if not offered immediately by the host, it is considered rude. The Chinese also have a tea ceremony, however unlike the Japanese ceremony, the emphasis is the tea rather than the ceremony. Tea is also an integral part of their celebrations such as the Chinese New Year, where tea is used in conjunction with contemplation and reflection on all the possibilities in the year ahead as well as being part of the communal feast, weilu, which symbolizes family unity and honors past and present generations.
China, the original homeland of tea, has grown tea for centuries and still offers the widest range of fine tea production as well as the largest variety of teas in the world. Up until WWII, the Chinese exported more than half the world’s tea, but today even with nearly half the world’s tea gardens, China produces only a small portion of the world’s tea. Tea is grown in approximately 18 regions, however the major production areas are in Fujian and Guangdong. While there are three main types of tea, the Chinese produce 7 different kinds: green tea, white tea, yellow tea, black tea, oolong tea, dark black tea and scented tea. Chinese green teas are clean and vegetal and the best know are Gunpowder, Dragon Well and Young Hyson. Their white teas are beautiful, light teas and are picked on the day prior to the flower blooms opening. White Peony and Silver Needle are the best known. Yellow tea is very rare in the west and a unique, delicate cup. Chinese black teas are mild, sweet and full-bodied and the best known are Keemun and Yunnan blacks. In China, black tea is often called “red tea,” because when infused it produces a burgundy color. Chinese oolong teas are fruity and fragrant plus lighter and greener than Taiwanese oolongs. The best known are Ti Kwan Yin and Phoenix Mountain. Dark black tea is called Pu’erh and is China’s mystery tea which unlike other tea is intentionally aged. Finally, the Chinese scented teas are produced by flower petals or blossoms being adding during the processing and boast subtle flavors such as jasmine and rose.
The Chinese primarily drink
green and oolong tea,
but they export mainly black tea
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”