Chinese Tea was accidently discovered around 2737 B.C according to Chinese legend.
Leaves from the Camellia sinensis fell into the water which was boiled for Emperor
Shenong. He drank it and loved the taste which led to the birth of Chinese Tea.
By the fourth century A.D., tea was established in Chinese culture. Teahouses were
opened in centuries that followed to serve the Chinese social culture evolving around
Chinese Tea. The drink was thought to have medicinal qualities. The southwestern
region of China is the birthplace of wild Chinese tea trees. In addition to Taiwan,
China has sixteen provinces that produce tea including the northern provinces of
Shandong, Shaanxi and Henan.
Chinese Tea has gone international for several centuries dating back as far as the
mid-16th century when European explorers and missionaries landed in China. The Dutch
began importing tea from China in 1610 with the Portuguese following closely behind.
Originally imported as a health drink, Chinese Tea became popular with the Dutch
and Portuguese aristocrats by 1640. Chinese Tea was expensive back those days and
only the wealthy could afford to drink it.
Even though the British is famous for drinking tea, Chinese Tea actually was imported
from China to the United States two years before it appeared in Great Britain. The
popularity of Chinese Tea in Britain was driven by the marriage of King Charles II
to Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza in 1662. She brought Chinese Tea and
porcelain teapots and cups with her to England. As the royalty began to drink Chinese
Tea, the ritual began to spread amongst the general public.
Chinese Tea Rituals
Traditionally, Chinese Tea is made in porcelain teapots and drank from porcelain
cups without handles. Chinese Tea is always drunk "black"; no sugar, milk or cream
please! When drinking Chinese Tea, there are customs or formalized rituals to follow.
In the presence of company, it is considered polite to top off the teacup of others
before your own. If someone is courteous to do this for you, the gesture for thank
you is lightly tapping on the table with your first two fingers. If you had enough
tea, just leave your cup full to signal that you do not wish to have anymore. In
a restaurant situation, if you want the waiter to refill your Chinese Teapot, simply
take the lid off.
Other Chinese Tea Customs
Historically, when a woman receives and accepts a marriage proposal, she drank Chinese
Tea as a symbol of fidelity. Chinese Tea plants die if uprooted.
Chinese Tea is used as part of the engagement or betrothal gift from the man's family
to the woman's family.
During the wedding ceremony, the Bride and Groom kneel in front of their parents
offering them Chinese Tea as a gesture of thank you.
Offering tea is a sign of respect. So it is common to see the youngest person in
a gathering topping off the teacup of elders.
Chinese Tea Origins
The Chinese word for tea is "cha". The majority of Chinese Tea falls into these
5 major categories:
This is the most famous of all the Chinese Teas. Green Tea is thought to
have health benefits. Consequently, Green Tea drinks and Green Tea flavored foods
have invaded the western culture. Green Tea is made from unfermented tea leaves which
are dried after picking. This prevents oxidation and leaves the chemical compounds
of the tea intact. The natural emerald green color of the leaves is unaltered.
This type of Chinese Tea is made from larger tea leaves. The leaves are
partially fermented to prevent full oxidation of the tea leaves. The leaves are
dried in the sun and heated to stop the oxidation process. A greenish-black color
takes hold in the Oolong tea. Taste varies depending on when fermentation was stopped
during tea processing. Oolong Tea combines the taste and aroma of Black and Green
Black Tea is made from tea leaves which have been rolled out and totally
dried and fermented. This process produces tea leaves that are dark in color.
This tea is made from Green Tea leaves. By adding flowers such as Jasmine
or Chrysanthemum to the tea leaves during the fermenting process, scented leaves
are produced. Other scented flowers added include orange bud and rose bud. The
Scented Tea is usually named after the flower.
Similar to Green Tea, White Tea is not fermented. While Green Tea leaves
are steam dried, White Tea leaves are dried naturally in the sun. The name, White
Tea is derived from the silvery white color of the leaves. White Tea is believed
to have even more health benefits than Green Tea.