Chinese tea has been an integral part of the Chinese way of life for thousands of years. Whenever you talk about ‘Chinese culture’, you won’t get very far without bringing it up.
Yet Chinese tea is often misunderstood by not just non-Chinese but even ethnic Chinese particularly post baby-boomers. If your parents don’t typically drink it at home, most probably your encounter with this delightful beverage is at a Chinese restaurant, tea house or tea retailer.
For the Chinese restaurant, the main focus is food, I don’t think that is in question. In the past (and it’s still the case in China), the moment you sit down, you are served tea. It’s a given, some places give you a choice of which tea but otherwise this is assumed to be part of the meal.
What is Chinese Tea?
China is the birth place of tea. Tea, botanically known as Camellia sinensis, is native to China and has been grown and cultivated in China for close to five millenniums. Today there are six basic types of Chinese tea-White Tea, Green Tea, Yellow Tea, Oolong Tea, Black Tea (sometimes called Hong Cha or Red Tea), and Pu’er Tea.
In China, the most popular tea is Green Tea. There are several thousand types of Green Tea produced throughout China. The Chinese are famous for scenting their teas with flowers. Jasmine Tea is by far the most famous scented Green Tea. Recently, the Chinese have introduced handcrafted and flowering teas where teas are tied into beautiful shapes or combined with beautiful flowers. The most famous handcrafted and flowering teas are produced in Huang Shan of the Anhui province and Fuding of the Fujian province.
The mythology related to Chinese Tea:
Legend has it that Chinese tea was discovered by the Emperor Shennong (Shen Nung, Shen Nong). Tea leaves from a nearby tea tree supposedly fell into Shennong’s boiling water. Along with firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce and vinegar, tea was considered as a basic necessity of Chinese life. Chinese monks were the early producers of Chinese teas. Early teas were processed into compressed forms for storage and trading. Emperors’ throughout China’s history were given tea as a tribute by their subjects. Many of China’s famous teas are sanctified by mystical stories and legends about their discovery. These legends often focus on the spiritual aspects of the tea, its fragrance, taste and health.
What part of the tea plant is used to make tea?
The highest grades of Green, White and Black tea are often handpicked from tender buds or tea shoots and tender unfurled leaves during the early spring. Many Oolongs are produced from plump large tender leaves with high oil content.
How are teas processed?
After a tea leaf or tea bud has been picked it must be dried. It is the method of drying and the amount of time before drying that largely determines the type of tea made.
- White Teas are naturally withered and dried at low temperatures. The withering and slow drying causes White Tea to be slightly oxidized.
- Green Teas are slightly withered, and then pan fired or baked to arrest oxidation. Then depending on the type of green tea, the tea then will undergo various baking or pan firing and rolling or shaping steps before it is refined, graded and packed.
- Oolong Tea leaves are withered until they have lost a percentage of their moisture. At this point, the oxidation process has already begun. The tea leaves are then hand rubbed or rolled to cause the desired level of oxidation. Green oolongs are less oxidized and dark oolongs are generally more oxidized. When the tea master has achieved the desired level of oxidation, the leaves are fired or baked. This step arrests oxidation by neutralizing the tea leaves natural enzymes. Oolong Tea then undergoes several baking/firing and rolling or shaping steps before it is refined, graded and packed.
- Black Tea is withered and then the leaves are bruised by rolling or rubbing. The tea is fully-oxidized before it undergoes baking or pan firing and shaping. After the tea is dried, it is refined, graded and packed.
What are the benefits of Chinese Tea?
Since the time of Shennong, tea has been a continuous ingredient in ancient Chinese medicine and depending on its type Chinese Tea:
- provides varied, pleasant taste sensations;
- unique invigorating fragrances;
- promotes a sense of well being and calmness;
- is one of the best antioxidants in any diet;
- is a natural anti-inflammatory; and
- reduces the symptoms of many chronic diseases.
5 Health Benefits of Chinese Tea
The western world may only just have discovered it’s amazing health properties, but for centuries in Asia, Green, or Chinese tea, has been revered as a good health staple. And with good reason it seems.
While the ancient Chinese may not have carried out extensive research, and mainly relied on results to make their decision about Chinese tea, it’s recently been the topic of extensive research, all of which seems to back up the ancient Chinese claims. So, if you’re serious about good health, you may consider switching coffee, or ordinary tea, for the Chinese tea variety. Here are a few reasons why:
Protect Your Teeth
Who would have thought that something as simple as drinking Chinese teas could help protect your teeth? According to research though, that’s exactly what the case is. Chinese tea contains various anti bacterial elements, all of which combine to combat the formation of plaque and tartar, long known to cause dental decay. So it seems that expensive mouth washes are not really necessary – simply drink green tea!
The results are in. A recent study pitted Chinese green tea against coffee, giving one group of men the former, while another stuck with the latter. Fed the same amount of calories, the group drinking Chinese tea lost more weight than their coffee drinking counterparts. Proof positive that green or Chinese tea can help you to lose more weight faster. It’s been hypothesized that this is because it contains similar chemicals to red wine, which as we know is credited with keeping the French slim, despite a diet relatively high in fat.
Among its many impressive health benefits, it’s recently discovered ability to prevent, or slow the growth of cancer cells must be one of Chinese tea’s most impressive achievements to date. According to the research, there is a chemical, known as EGCG, which actively prevents the growth of cancerous cells. Given the sometimes debilitating side effects of conventional cancer treatments, particularly chemo and radiation treatment, a natural, side effect free alternative is a great step forward! Of course, research is ongoing, and cancer should still be treated with conventional methods, but it helps to know that you can be proactive, and switch to green tea to help your treatment.
Lowering Cholesterol Levels
If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, or if you are at risk because of your diet, or a genetic predisposition, chances are you’re on the lookout for something to counter the problem. Well, Chinese tea has been proven to reduce “bad” cholesterol levels, so adding it to your new diet may be just the answer you’re looking for! Another benefit, particularly if you travel a lot, is that it helps prevent deep vein thrombosis, by thinning the blood.
Looking for a natural alternative to aspirin? Well look no further! Amazingly, along with all its other fantastic abilities, Chinese tea helps prevent and cure headaches! As if that wasn’t enough, it also helps combat depression, so if you’re feeling low, or have a headache, drink a cup, and sort the problem out naturally.
If you’re struggling to balance a hectic modern lifestyle with good health, adding Chinese health tea to your diet may be just the ticket. With these and more benefits, it’s easy to see why it’s been so popular for so long. So drink to your health with Chinese tea.
What is in the future for tea?
Tea research is being funded by governments, universities and businesses all over the world. Scientific findings are proving tea should be a part of a normal diet for hydration, antioxidants, stimulants and other unstudied positive effects. As the study of tea continues, its popularity in Western society has increased.
To your health!
With generous thanks to Veronica Walter, Hardi Raweetand Derek Chew
Submitted for your consumption and good health,
—Mee Magnum (“Chop! Chop!”)