Information about Chinese Tea

Today, tea is produced in over 40 countries and consumed in scores more. Yet, the flavors of this exquisite drink was unknown to the majority of the world till the late 19th Century when it started to be exported on a mass scale from its birthplace, China. Nearly, ninety percent of the world’s tea production comes from Asia and all the tea bushes around the world have their origins, either directly or indirectly, in China. Almost all the major tea producing nations have their own unique methods to process the tea leaves. Tea leaves which have been processed using methods practiced in Mainland China are known as Chinese tea.

The discovery of Chinese tea is an interesting one. The story as it goes in China is that Emperor Shen Nung in 2737 B.C. went on a long trip. When he stopped to rest, a servant went to get him boiling water. From a wild tea bush, a dead leaf fell into the pot of boiling water. Unnoticed to the eyes of the servant, it was presented to the Emperor who drank it and found the drink to be very refreshing. And thus, tea was born!

Then, as time progressed, so did a transition take place in the production of Chinese tea. The earliest mention of widespread drinking of tea in China was during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). Then Chinese tea was processed in a way which many would find unbelievable today. Tea leaves were plucked, dried and then compressed in the form of cakes. The tea leaves in this dried cake form were then ground in stone mortars. The powdered cakes were in boiled in earthenware vessels and consumed as a hot beverage.

Later, during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), the method to process Chinese tea underwent a change. During this period, the tea leaves were plucked, steam dried immediately and then ground to a fine powder. This powder was immediately put into wide bowls. The beverage resulting from this powder was iridescent white in color and highly regarded by the Song Court. Chinese tea during this period was mainly white tea and new varieties such as the ‘Silver Silk Water Sprout’ and ‘Palace Jade Sprout’ were developed by Emperor Huizong.

For decades, the process of steaming was the primary method of preparation of Chinese tea. However, during the fourteenth century, the method of producing Chinese tea underwent another transition. The tea leaves were roasted and allowed to crumble, rather than being steamed. This was the origin of modern day loose teas. However, what prompted this change on a mass scale was a decree by the Ming court in 1391 that only loose tea was to be accepted as tribute.

The processing of Chinese tea developed vastly in the seventeenth century. A process, known as ‘fermentation’ was introduced. Though technically, this process was not ‘fermentation’, but rather an enzymatic oxidation of the tea leaves. This process could be manipulated to get the desired result by changing the rate of drying or steaming the leaves. In fact, in southern China, the leaves were sun dried and half fermented to produce Oolongs. Further development of Chinese tea led to the production of present day white tea in 1796 during the Qing Dynasty. Finally, mass export of Chinese tea started in 1891, with the export of the Silver Needle.

Today, the consumption of Chinese tea is prevalent in most parts of the world. Chinese green tea is the more popular one in the Americas, though the consumption of white tea is increasing at a fast pace, especially after studies detailing its health benefits have been published. Who could have thought that the wild leaf discovered unintentionally more than 4000 years ago would become one of the most popular beverages of all time!

More information about history of the Chinese Tea available at – the online Tea guide.

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