Tea History And Types

Tea History

The practice of drinking tea has had a long history in China, having originated there. Although tea originated in China, Chinese tea generally represents tea leaves which have been processed using methods inherited from ancient China. According to popular legend, tea was discovered by Chinese Emperor Shennong in 2737 BCE when a leaf from a nearby shrub fell into water the emperor was boiling. Tea is deeply woven into the history and culture of China. The beverage is considered one of the seven necessities of Chinese life, along with firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce and vinegar.

All tea originally came from China and from the same plant, Camelia Sinensis. The modern term "tea" der

A statue of Lu Yu. Xi'an, China

ives from early Chinese dialect words - such as Tchai, Cha and Tay - used both to describe the beverage and the leaf. Chinese legends state that the qualities of tea are said to have been first discovered by the Second Emperor, Shen Nung (Divine Healer) (reputed to have reigned 2737- 2697 B.C.), who also discovered millet, medicinal herbs, and invented the plough. The tea trade was first mentioned in 1066 B.C. when Yunnan sent some tribute tea to the emperor. It is thought that the origins of the Camellia Sinensis plant are Yunnan province in the south of China. Currently there is a wild tea tree that is over seventeen hundred years old, and there is a cultivated tea tree that is reported to be over eight hundred years old.


Legend also has it that the first people that cultivated tea were monks that wanted to stay alert during their meditation. To this day many teas have names that are related to monks. About 1200 years ago, The first book on tea "Ch'a Ching", circa 780 AD, was written by the Chinese author Lu Yu. It comprises three volumes and covers tea from its growth through to its making and drinking, as well as covering a historical summary and famous early tea plantation. There are many illustrations of tea making utensils and some say that the book inspired the Buddhist monks to create the Japanese tea ceremony. Lu Yu is recognized in China as the equivalent of the patron saint of tea. Chinese tea was the inspiration for many poems, paintings, and of course the incredible ceramics that have produced the worlds premier tea pots and tea cups.

Tea Types

Chinese tea can be classified into five distinctive categories: white, green, oolong, red and post-fermented. Others add categories for scented and compressed teas. All of these come from varieties of the Camellia sinensis plant. Most Chinese teas are consumed in China and are not exported, except to Chinese-speaking communities in other countries. Green tea is the most popular type of tea consumed in China.

Within these main categories of tea are vast varieties of individual beverages. Some researchers have counted more than 700. Others put the number at more than 1,000. Some of the variations are due to different strains of the Camilla plant. The popular Tieguanyin, for example, is traced back to a single plant discovered in Anxi in Fujian province. Other teas draw some of their characteristics from local growing conditions. However, the largest factor in the wide variations comes from differences in tea processing after the tea leaves are harvested. White and green teas are heat treated (simplified Chinese: 杀青; traditional Chinese: 殺青; pinyin: shā qīng) soon after picking to prevent oxidization, often called fermentation, caused by natural enzymes in the leaves. Oolong teas are partially oxidized. Black and red teas are fully oxidized. Other differences come from variations in the processing steps.

Green Tea

Green Tea: An Ji Bai Cha

Green tea is also called unfermented tea. It is made with the new shoots of appropriate tea trees as raw materials, by applying the typical techniques of inactivation, rolling and drying. According to the drying and inactivation techniques, it is sub-divided into stir-fried green tea, roasted green tea, sun-dried green tea and steamed green tea. Green tea has the characteristics of "green leaves in a clear soup with a strong astringent taste ". It is the tea category with the longest history (more than three thousand years) and also the one with the largest output in China. The production areas are mainly distributed in central eastern provinces such as Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangxi.

Famous green teas include: West Lake Dragon Well Tea, Xinyang Maojian Tea and Biluochun Tea.

Black Tea (Red Tea)

Black Tea: Bi Luo Chun Hong Cha

Black Tea is also called fermented tea. Only the new shoots of tea leaves are suitable for use as the raw material for making this tea. It is exquisitely made through the typical technical processes of wilting, rolling, fermentation and drying. Its infusion is mainly red in tone. Hence what is known as black tea elsewhere is known as red tea in China. As the second largest tea category in China, it is divided into the subcategories: Gongfu Black Tea and Smashed Black Tea.

Famous brands include Dianhong Red Tea and Yixing Red Tea.

Oolong Tea

Green Tea: Tie Guan Yin

Oolong Tea is especially popular with tea connoisseurs of south China and Chinese expatriates in Southeast Asia.

Oolong Tea is also called blue tea, and is an unfermented tea. It is a tea category with some unique and distinctive characteristics. Oolong tea, as a blend of green tea and red tea, has qualities of both green tea and red tea. It not only has the thick and fresh flavor of red tea, but also has the pleasant fragrance of green tea. It is affectionately known as green leaves with a red edge. Oolong tea decomposes fat, resulting in weight loss and greater fitness. It is regarded as a beauty and fitness product in Japan.

Exemplary brands of Oolong tea include: Wenshan Baozhong Tea, Anxi Tieguanyin, Dongding Wulong Tea and Wuyi Dahongpao.

White Tea

White Tea: Bai Hao Yin Zhen

White tea is uncured, unfermented, fast-dried green tea. It is a speciality of Fujian province. It got its name from the recourse of poor Chinese of offering boiled water to guests if they didn't have any tea, which they called "white tea" (the word for white can mean plain in Chinese). Thus they would save face and come across as routinely hospitable. As might be imagined white tea is lighter in color and flavor than other teas.

A couple of famous Fujianese white teas are Baihao Yinzhen (Baihao is a place name and Yinzhen means Silver Needle) and Bai Mudan (White Peony).

Yellow Tea

Yellow Tea: Huo Shan Huang

Yellow Tea is produced by letting damp tea leaves naturally yellow. It has an original smell, which could be mistaken for red tea if it is cured with herbs, but its taste is most similar to green and white teas. Yellow Tea is also a term used to decribed the top-quality tea served to the emperor, because the imperial color has traditionally been yellow.

Junshan Yinzhen is China's most famous yellow tea. It is made in Junshan in Hunan Province and Yinzhen means silver needle, probably a reference to the tiny white hairs on the tea leaves.

Reprocessed Tea

These products, which are made by taking teas from the categories above as materials and reprocessing them, is called reprocessed tea. The product range includes scented tea, pressed tea, instant tea, extracted tea, fruit tea, medicinal tea and health tea, which have a variety of flavors and effects.

Scented Tea (Herbal Tea)

Herbal Tea: Huang shan Chrysanthemum

Jasmine Tea is the most famous scented tea in China.

Scented teas include Jasmine tea and Pearl Orchid scented tea; pressed teas include Tuo Tea and Liubao Tea; instant teas include the brand Green Source .

Scented tea is made by mixing and aromatizing tea leaves with scented flowers, letting the tea assimilate the fragrance of the flowers by taking advantage of the absorptivity of tea leaves. The dhool (a collection of tea leaves prior to drying) used for aromatization of a scented tea is mainly roasted green tea and a small amount of slender and tender stir-fried green tea. When processing the scented tea, the dhool and fresh fragrant flowers are piled up layer upon layer so that tea assimilates the fragrance of flowers. When the tea has absorbed the flowers' scent new flowers are added and the process repeated. The degree of fragrance of a scented tea depends on the quantity of flowers being used and the time of aromatization. The ordinary scented tea sold in the market is generally only aromatized once or twice.

Scented tea has a strong fragrance, which can help in sobering up after being drunk. It is especially liked by people in north and Northeastern areas of China. In recent years, it has also been sold abroad. Examples are Jasmine Tea, Pearl Orchid Scented Tea, Rose Tea and Sweet-Scented Osmanthus Tea.