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Chinese Tea

Chinese Tea
Tea – the most Chinese of all drinks

In China there are so many different types of tea, and so many different ways of drinking it, that you can study a degree in the art of teamaking – and still have plenty more to learn.

China’s influence in the field of tea has been so great that it’s one of the few Chinese words we use in English – ‘cha’, or rather chá 茶, is Chinese for tea.

The sheer number of teas is quite simply phenomenal, there are thought to be up to 3,000 types of green tea alone. Quite apart from green tea, Chinese people also drink jasmine tea, black tea and Oolong tea (sometimes called Wu Long Tea, Wūlóngchá – 乌龙茶) as well as a whole host of herbal and flower teas by the bucket load.

It can be very difficult to get hold of decent Chinese tea in the west, so Beijing Made Easy recommends Adagio Teas as the best place to buy tea online.

Tea is drunk for medicinal purposes and when friends meet. Tea is drunk over noisy games of mahjong and in peaceful teahouses. Tea is drunk on from grimy glass flasks on Beijing buses and from ornate porcelain cups in downtown Shanghai, and tea is drunk with meals from dimsum in tropical Hong Kong to roast meat in the frozen North.

Generally speaking, Chinese people drink their tea plain, without sugar, milk or any other additive. There are exceptions of course, including the sweet ‘bubble teas’ which originated in Taiwan and Muslim teas like Eight Treasure Tea (Bābăochá – 八宝茶) which contains sugar, fruit, nuts and seeds. Of course one cannot forget the teas of China’s other ethnic minorities, like the Mongols who drink their tea with butter and salt, and the Xibo, who drink it with milk which forms a skin.

All types of ‘true tea’, like green tea, Oolong tea, White tea and black tea, all come from the same plant, what differentiates them is the way they’re processed after the leaves have been picked. Here’s a little about the most important types of Chinese tea.

Traditionally, the teahouse was the best place to sip your favourite brew, and occupied a place in Chinese society similar to that of the pub in the UK. The teahouse has a tranquil atmosphere, usually disturbed only by the sound of tea pouring, the rustle of newspapers, hushed conversation and the gently strummed music of the guzheng.

On the other hand, teahouses are also the sometimes the venue for performances of music and Beijing Opera.

Different Types of Tea

Chinese Tea – Green

Green tea is the most-drunk type of tea in China. Green tea aficionados can read as much into a cup of tea as can any French wine buff into wine, and will probably tell you that the green tea you buy in your local supermarket is little better than boiled hay.

Green tea is actually a bit of a misnomer, since most green teas are of a yellow colour when infused. The main areas for growing green tea in China are in the South and East. Longjing (Lóngjĭng – 龙井), the most popular green tea, grows by the West lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.

Another famous type of Chinese green tea include Biluochun (Bìluóchūn – 碧螺春), which translates to ‘Green Snail Spring’, and is grown in Jiangsu province and has a delicious strong, fresh taste. Others include Huangshan Maofeng (Huángshān Máofēng – 黄山毛峰), from the Huangshan area of Anhui province, and Xinyang Maojian (Xìnyáng Máojiān – 信阳毛尖) from the Xinyang area of Henan Province.

Green tea undergoes minimal oxidisation – after the leaves are picked they are left for a few days to wither under the hot Chinese sun, then steamed or pan-fried.

Beijing Made Easy recommends Adagio Teas as the best place to buy green tea online.

Chinese Tea – White

White tea is an oft-misunderstood term. White tea comes from the same plants as green tea, but it is processed differently. White tea uses only the youngest buds and new leaves (where as lower grade green teas use quite old leaves), and is steamed or fried immediately after being picked, whereas green tea is generally left to wither before being fried.

The plants which will make white tea are sometimes deprived of sunlight to prevent the formation of chlorophyl, which results in whiter leaves. The young buds and leaves are covered in tiny hairs, which also contributes to the whiteness of the appearance.

Baihao Yinzhen (Báiháo Yínzhèn – 白毫银镇), the name of which means ‘Silver needle’ is considered to be the finest White tea, and is grown in South East China’s Fujian Province. Other celebrated Chinese White Teas include White Peony, (Bái mùdān – 白牡丹), which is also from Fujian province.

Beware – translate ‘white tea’ literally into Chinese and it refers to an entirely different type of tea.

Beijing Made Easy recommends Adagio Teas as the best place to buy white tea online.

Chinese Tea – Oolong tea or Wulong/ Wu Long Tea

Oolong tea (Wūlóngchá – 乌龙茶) is not oxidised so thoroughly as black tea, but more so than green tea, so you end up with a brew that resembles something in between. The taste is closer to that of green tea, but the colour is clearly brown.

‘Wūlóng’ literally means ‘crow-dragon’ or ‘black dragon’. There are several theories as to how the tea acquired such a name, though nobody knows the truth. One theory is that it’s because the leaves look like little black dragons. Another theory is that a man was trying to make green tea, but was scared away by a black snake (sometimes referred to as dragons), when he came back, the leaves had fermented farther than they should for green tea – into Oolong tea.

Beijing Made Easy recommends Adagio Teas as the best place to buy Oolong tea online.

Chinese Black Tea

The drink most commonly drunk in the West, ‘black tea’, the Chinese call ‘red tea’ (Hóng chá – 红茶). It is fairly popular in China, but cannot compete with green tea. Black tea is heavily oxidised which results in a darker colour, stronger taste, and more caffeine.

The Chinese consider Keemun (Qímén – 祁门) to be the finest black tea. It’s taste is comparatively light in comparison to other black teas. Lapsang Souchong (Zhèngshān Xiăozhǒng – 正山小种)is a black tea with a very distinctive smoky flavour, achieved by drying the oxidised leaves over a burning pine.

Beijing Made Easy recommends Adagio Teas as the best place to buy black tea online.

Chinese Tea – Pu-erh – Compressed Teas

Pu-erh tea (Pǔ’ĕrchá – 普洱茶) is a kind of ‘ripened tea’ or ‘compressed tea’. In the West it is sometimes with the black teas, but in China, it is only these ‘ripened teas’ which are called ‘black teas’, and not the more common black teas like Keemun. Pu-erh is extremely rare among teas in that it is believed to improve with age – some pu-erh teas are left for up to 50 years before being consumed.

There are two ways to make pu-erh tea, in both cases the leaves used are mature leaves from taller plants. After being gently plucked, the leaves are dried in the sun, then heated to prevent further oxidisation. They can then either be pressed into cakes and left to age, or artificially aged in a compost-like process known as ‘wet-heaping’, which imitates the effect of ageing.

Whatever the method employed, the result is a deliciously smooth tea with an earthy flavour. Pu-erh tea is considered to be medicinal and is prescribed by Chinese doctors to treat skin conditions and digestive problems.

Beijing Made Easy recommends Adagio Teas as the best place to buy Pu-erh tea online.

Chinese Tea – Flower Teas

Flower teas sometimes have base of green or black tea (scented tea), or are sometimes made by boiling parts of flowers (flower tea).

The most common type of flower tea is jasmine tea, which involves mixing jasmine flowers together with green or Oolong tealeaves. The tealeaves absorbs the flavour, and the jasmine flowers can then be removed.

Chrysanthemum tea is also very popular. The flower heads are dried, and boiled to drink, sometimes with the addition of rock sugar.

Beijing Made Easy recommends Adagio Teas as the best place to buy flower tea online.

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