There are three basic categories of tea which differ according to the manner in which they are produced. Green, Oolong and Black teas each have their respective subcategories such as white, yellow, light or heavily fermented, or compressed. The diverse environmental conditions in which the plants are grown, the age and number of leaves used, and the final appearance of the leaves also contribute to creating the enormous variety of products on the market.
World-wide, tea is consumed more than any other liquid except for water. People of all ages have historically enjoyed the infusion from the Camellia Sinensis tree as a beverage as well as for its medicinal properties. Modern research has shown that tea does indeed have many health affecting qualities; and numerous publications extolling the benefits of tea have contributed to the tremendous growth in its consumption in the U. S.
Chinese Tea Classes
Although there are hundreds of varieties of Chinese tea, they can mainly be classified into five categories. The classifications are determined by the method of processing the tea. The five types are green tea, black tea, brick tea, scented tea, and Oolong tea.
With its natural fragrance, the oldest tea is green tea, which is very popular among many different people. It is baked immediately after picking. The tea can be divided into many kinds, depending on the way that it is processed. The most famous among the various green teas are Longjing (Dragon Well) Tea around the West Lake in Hangzhou, Huangshan Maofeng Tea from Mt. Huangshan, Yinzhen (Silver Needle) Tea from Mt. Junshan and Yunwu (Cloud and Mist) Tea from Mt. Lushan.
Black tea is favored mainly among foreigners. Different from green tea, black tea is a kind of fermented tea. After the fermentation, its color changes from green to black. The most famous black teas in China are "Qi Hong (which originated in Anhui), "Dian Hong" (which originated in Yunnan), and "Ying Hong" (which originated in Guangdong).
Oolong tea, which combines the freshness of green tea and the fragrance of black tea, is becoming popular with more and more people. It is also popular for its medical benefits, including assisting the body building process and in dieting. Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwan are the major producers of this kind of tea. Oolong tea grows on cliffs. Harvesting this type of tea is very difficult, which makes it the most precious.
Scented tea, popular in Northern China, is a mixture of green tea with flower petals of rose, jasmine, orchid and plum, which is combined through an elaborate process. Among this type of tea, jasmine is the most common.
Brick, or compressed, tea, is usually pressed into brick shape, and is mainly produced in Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan, Yunnan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Brick tea is made from black or green tea and is pressed into blocks, which makes it easier to transport. This kind of tea is popular with the ethnic minority people in border regions. The most famous brick tea is "Pu'er Tea" made in Yunnan province.
There are other kinds of tea. Among them, white tea is special and is not very familiar to most people. Just as its name suggests, this kind of tea is as white as silver. It is mainly produced in Zhenhe and Fuding in Fujian Province, but popular in Southeast Asia. Famous varieties include "Silver Needle" and "White Peony".
Appendix: Ten Best Chinese teas
Longjing (Dragon Well): Produced at Longjing village near the West Lake, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.
Biluochun: Produced at Wu County, Jiangsu Province.
Huangshanmaofeng: Produced at Mt. Huangshan in Anhui Province.
Junshan Silver Needle: Produced at Qingluo Island on Dongting Lake Province.
Qimen Black Tea: Produced at Qimen County in Anhu Provincei.
Liuan Guapian: Produced at Liuan County in Henan Province.
Xinyang Maojian: Produced at Xinyang, Henan Province.
Duyun Maojian: Produced at Duyun Mountain, Guizhou Province.
Wuyi Rock Tea: Produced at Wuyi Mountain, Fujian Province.
Tieguanyin: Produced at Anxi County, Fujian Province.
Just as coffee became a part of daily life in the West, tea became a part of daily life in China. One can see teahouses scattered on the streets of China, much like cafes on the streets of the West. The Chinese have such a close relationship with tea that a new cultural phenomenon relating to tea is rising up in China. It goes by the pleasant name of "Tea Culture". Tea Culture includes articles, poems, pictures about tea, the art of making and drinking tea, and some customs about tea.
Among the customs, a host will only fill a teacup to seven-tenths of its capacity. It is said that the other three-tenths will be filled with friendship and affection. Moreover, the teacup should be emptied in three gulps.
Tea plays an important role in Chinese social and
emotional life. Tea is always offered to a guest immediately upon entering a Chinese home. Serving a cup of tea is more than a matter of mere politeness. It is a symbol of togetherness, a sharing of something enjoyable, and a way of showing respect to visitors. In some areas of China, it might be considered rude not to take at least a sip.
We normally think of tea drinking as an invitation to stay and socialize. In earlier times, however, the drinking of tea could signal the close to the social encounter. This was particularly true when one visited one's superior. When the guest reached the host's home, the host would offer his guest a cup of tea. They would then talk. When the host wanted his guest to leave, he would signal this by holding his own cup of tea and drinking it. The guest would then know that the host wanted him to leave and would ask to leave.
Although there has been an increasing amount of literature about tea in recent years, such literature is certainly not new. During the Song Dynasty, Lu Yu, who is known as the "Tea Sage", wrote the Tea Scripture. This scripture describes in detail the processes of planting tea bushes, harvesting tea leaves, preparing harvested leaves for the brewing of tea. Famous poets such as Li Bai, Du Fu, and Bai Juyi created large numbers of poems about tea. Famous painters Tang Bohu and Wen Zhengming even drew many pictures about tea.
The Chinese give great attention to their tea and the way they drink it. People have high requirements for the quality of the prepared tea leaf, the water they use to brew tea and the wares they use to prepare and serve tea. Normally, the finest tea is grown at altitudes of 3,000 to 7,000 feet (900 to 2,100 meters). People select their water carefully. The Chinese emphasize water quality and water taste. Fine water must be pure, sweet, cool, clean, and flowing. Water from good springs is always considered best, as is rainwater from autumn and the rainy seasons.
Chinese prefer pottery wares to wares made of metal or other materials. The best choice is the purple clay wares made in Yixing and Jingdezhen, Jiangsu province. The purple clay of this region gives the wares their internationally-known purple color
Chinese Tea Ceremony
The Chinese and Japanese have for centuries maintained ceremonial tea rooms where the art of drinking the beverage is central to many people's lives. Famous 16th-century tea-master Sen Rikyu identified the four basic principles of what he called the "Way of Tea" as harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity. He described them as "the highest ideals of humanity, and where it is important to reflect on them for one's spiritual growth". Historically, the tea ceremony is also in part designed to focus mental energies and encourage relaxation while enjoying a very ancient tradition.
Serving and drinking tea play a major cultural role in China. The word "ceremony" does not imply that each server will perform the ritual the same way, and there are no religious connotations. Each step is designed as a sensory exploration and an appreciation, so much so that the event often inspires poetry and music. Mutual love of tea cements lifelong friendships, a concept usually beyond the grasp of foreigners. Such friendships developed among the ancient Chinese aristocracy, court officials, intellectuals and poets just as much as among ordinary people.
Unlike the Japanese tea ceremony, the Chinese version emphasizes the tea rather than the event itself, focus being on what the tea tastes like, smells like, and how one tea's taste compares with others for example the preceding tea or a whole range which has been consumed during successive servings. Servers perform the ceremony with a grace that is both stylish and artistic.
Small is Beautiful
Chinese-style tea-drinking calls for the use of small cups which match tiny, unglazed clay teapots. Each cup contains just two "swallows" of tea. Before it is poured, both teapot and cups are cured. A good amount of tea is placed in the pot with tweezers, when along with the cups it is washed in special bowls already filled with hot tea. This "seals" the cups with the tea's resins. Prior to serving, only water that is actually boiling is poured into the teapots, which are filled to overflowing. Any lesser heat would fail to draw out the true flavors of tea leaves during the "mashing" process. For hygienic reasons as much as tradition, teapots and cups are not touched by hand when being washed. Again, tweezers are used.
Equal in importance to the ceremony itself is its actual setting, and the suitability of the room in which it is held. Overall, "style" is paramount. Genuine tea-rooms are built to a strict formula, emphasis going to the creation of a warm and inviting atmosphere. It is important that guests feel comfortable and "right" in themselves. Activities are to the background of relaxing music.
Initially, about one-third of the teapots' capacity is for the tea leaves. This seems over-generous, but the water will need to be topped up many times during the ceremony. The tea is left to mash, or brew, for about five minutes before serving begins. If the very expensive, upscale Pu-erh tea is used,it should be brewed for only three minutes before being placed in the special washing bowls with the cups. This will remove any residual fermented taste. Pu-erh tea can provide between 10 and 20 infusions before it loses its flavor.
Those in charge of the ceremonies know that some green teas are lightly fermented, while red varieties can be moderately or heavily fermented. Thus they take special account of the variations to ensure the eradication of any residual taste when the switch is made to another type of tea.
Sniffing for Perfection
Included in some ceremonies is a process where the tea is poured into special "sniffing" cups made from porcelain. These are filled with tea, left to stand a while, then the tea is poured away. Guests then sniff the tea's aroma in the empty cup. So attuned is an expert's nose that he or she can tell when and where the tea was grown, and whether it is a good "vintage". The process is little different to a wine-tasting session.
If you attend a tea ceremony, never gulp your tea or swallow it in one go. Etiquette demands that you gently sip it through the lips and teeth, creating a slight hissing sound. The sniffing and drinking of tea, and its numerous servings, can take over an hour ? time for the chatting which is so integral to a tea ceremony. How do you know that a true tea-master is running the show Simply by the fact that each round of tea should taste exactly the same.
Correct Water the Key
The water used in a tea ceremony is as important as the brewed tea itself. Any chlorine or fluoride in tap water should be filtered out because they distort the tea's flavor. Distilled water makes "flat" tea and should be avoided. Experts say the ideal should have an alkaline pH (literally hydrogen power) of around 7.9. High mineral content brings out the richness and sweetness of green teas, which are sometimes ruined if the water is ultra-boiling. For these teas generally, the water temperature should be 170-185 degrees F. Oolong teas made with hot rather than boiled water are fragrant, thus widely popular in China.
Chinese Tea Brewing
Three elements for making a good cup of tea
In the past, Chinese used a different method to make tea. They preferred to prepare by steeping refined tea leaves in a teapot. This is called the "steeping method". In order to prepare a good cup of tea by using the "steeping method", the amount of tea leaves used and the water temperature have to be carefully controlled. At the beginnng of the Ming Dynasty, people used large teapots to brew tea so that they could drink many cups from one pot of tea. Later, they discovered that when the tea leaves were being steeped too long in hot water, the tea would become bitter in taste and the last few cups would not be as fresh as the first few. That is why the size of teapots has become smaller and smaller. Teapots made of purple clay at Yixing of Jiangsu province are most treasured by the tea epicures.¡¡
The preparation of Chinese tea is a skilled and precise art. Different teas each require different brewing procedures that need to be followed to ensure optimum flavour and taste. Hence, in order to make a good cup of tea, we have to pay attention to the quantity of tea leaves, the water temperature and the length of each brew. ¡¡
The quantity of tea leaves depends on the size of the teapot, the type of tea and personal preference. Normally, the quantity of tea can vary from one-fifth to one half of the teapot size.
Regarding the water temperature, for green tea and some slightly roasted and fermented fresh tea leaves, the water temperature should be around 80 degrees Celsius so as not to ruin the Vitamin C in the tea leaves. However, for black tea, red tea and moderately to heavily roasted tea leaves, the temperature should reach 100 degrees Celsius.
The length of steeping time varies for different types of tea too. Normally, the first brew should take less than 30 seconds. Then, for each subsequent brew, the steeping time must be proportionally lengthened for about 5 to 30 seconds. ¡¡
Brewing a cup of tea
First warm the teapot by rinsing with hot water.
Fill the teapot with tea leaves. The quantity of tea can vary from one-fifth to one-half of the teapot size, depending on the type of tea and personal preference.
Pour hot water onto tea leaves until it just overflows, then use the lid to wipe off any foam or bubbles from the water surface, if there is any. Drain off water immediately and discard.
Refill the teapot with fresh boiling water, steep the tea leaves for less than 30 seconds for the first brew / infusion.
Each subsequent brew / infusion from the same leaves must be proportionally lengthened for about 5 to 30 seconds.¡¡
Cleaning the teapot
Never try to get the invaluable patina or tea stains off. Also, avoid having dust and grease get into the teapot and never use any kind of soap or detergent to clean the purple clay teapot as the teapot will absorb the taste of soap. To clean the teapot, simply remove the used leaves, rinse the teapot with hot water, and dry with the lid off
Chinese Tea Culture:
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