Drinks and Snacks of China - Tea

China, the Homeland of Tea. Of the three major beverages of the world, tea, coffee, and cocoa are consumed by the largest number of people. China is the homeland of tea. It is be­lieved that China had tea shrubs as early as five to six thousand years ago, and hu­man cultivation of tea plants dates back two thousand years. Tea from China, along with her silk and porcelain, began to be known to the world more than a thousand years ago and has since always been an Important Chinese export.

China, the Homeland of Tea.China, the Homeland of Tea.

At present more than forty countries in the world grow tea with Asian countries producing 90% of the world's total output. All tea trees in other countries have their origin directly or indirectly in China. The word for lea leaves or tea as a drink in many countries is derivative of the Chinese character "cha". The Russians call it "cha", which sounds like "Chaye" (tea leaves) as it is pronounced in northern China, and 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 with a slight difference. The habit of tea drinking spread to Japan in the 6th century. but it 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 is still on the increase.

The Categories of Tea

Chinese tea may be classified into five categories according to the different methods by which it is processed.

1) Green tea: Green tea is a variety that keeps the original color of the tea leaves without fermentation during processing. This category consists mainly of Longjing tea from Hangzhou, Maofeng from 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 that is fermented before baking; it is a later variety developed on the basis of green tea. The best brands of black tea are Qihong of Anhui, Dianhong of Yunnan, and Suhong of Jiangsu. Chuanhong of Sichuan and huhong of Hunan. 

3)Wulong tea: This represents a variety halfway between the green and the black teas, 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 that is compressed and hardened into a certain shape. It is good for transport and storage and is mainly supplied to the ethnic minorities living in the border areas of the country. 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; it is, therefore, generally called "brick tea", though it is sometimes also 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. The flowers commonly used for this purpose are jasmine and magnolia among others. Jasmine tea is a well-known favorite among the northerners of China and with a growing number of foreigners.

Collection of Tea PotsCollection of Tea Pots

Tea Production

A new tea plant must grow for five years before its leaves can be picked and, 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 100 years.

For the fertilization of tea gardens. soya-bean cakes or other varieties of or­ganic manure are generally used, and sel­dom chemical fertilizers. When pests are discovered, the affected plants will be re­moved to prevent their spread, and also to avoid the use of pesticides.

The season of tea picking depends on the 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 from the end of March and lasts through October, altogether 20-30 times from the same plants at intervals of seven to ten days. With a longer interval, the quality of the tea will deteriorate. A skilled woman picker can only gather 600 grains (a little over a pound) of green tea leaves in a day.

Longjing Tea Garden, HangzhouLongjing Tea Garden, Hangzhou

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 or 74. 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 the old days' Dragon WelI tea of this grade was meant solely for the imperial household; it was, therefore, known as "tribute tea".

For the processes of grinding, parching, rolling, shaping, and drying other grades of tea various machines have been developed and built, turning out about 100 kilograms of finished tea an hour and relieving the workers from much of their drudgery.

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 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. (Tour Chengdu and sit in the traditional tea house to be a local ) 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 I (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".

Chinese Tea Ceremony ClassChinese Tea Ceremony Class

Tea is also rich in various vitamins and, for smokers, it helps to discharge nicotine out of the system. After winning, strong tea may prove to be a sobering pick-me-up.

The above, however, does not go to say 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 over-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. But it is not diffi­cult to ward off these undesirable effects: just don't make your tea too strong.

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