Chinese tea culture refers to the methods of preparation of tea, the equipment used to make tea and the occasions in which tea is consumed in China. The Chinese people have a saying that firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce, vinegar and tea are the seven necessities of life. In ancient China, drinking tea was prevalent among the people. Chinese tea culture distinguishes itself from that observed by the Western or the Japanese. Chinese tea culture enjoys a time-honored history and profound richness, carrying both material and spiritual contents. Since the Tang Dynasty, the spiritual influence of tea has its presence in every sector of the society, and helps shape the styles of Chinese poems, paintings, calligraphy, religion and medical science. For thousands of years, the Chinese people have not only accumulated a wealth of experience of tea production, which belongs to the physical aspect of the tea culture, but also have enriched the spiritual content of tea, which falls within the realm of literature and arts.
Chinese tea leaves can be subcategorized into six varieties, namely green tea, black tea, oolong tea, white tea, yellow tea and dark tea (brick tea).
Green tea is made from the leaves from Camellia sinensis that have undergone minimal oxidation during processing. Green tea has become the raw material for extracts used in various beverages, health foods, dietary supplements, and cosmetic items. Over the last few decades green tea has been subjected to numerous scientific and medical studies to determine the extent of its long-purported health benefits, with some evidence suggesting that regular green tea drinkers may have a lower risk of developing heart disease and certain types of cancer. Longjing (Hangzhou), Bi Luo Chun (Jiangsu) and Huangshan Maofeng (Anhui) are among the most famed green tea varieties in China.
The earliest black tea was invented by a tea grower in the Wuyi Mountains area, Fujian Province, China. In Chinese, black tea is a commonly used classification for post-fermented teas. There is a wide variety of black tea leaves, among which, Keemun black tea (Anhui) and Dian Hong (Yunnan) enjoy a world fame that travels far and wide. The other two celebrated varieties of black tea leaves, namely kungfu and the small-leaved tea, are known for their fragrance. The black tea leaves of India and Sri Lanka originally introduced from China also enjoy an established fame.
Oolong tea, which can only be found in China, is among the major tea varieties in China. Major places of oolong tea cultivation are Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwai. Recent years have witnessed oolong tea production from Sichuan and Hunan. Oolong tea has its market in Guangdong, Fujian, Hong Kong and Macau, and is also exported to Japan and Southeast Asia. Wuyi rock tea (Fujian) is hailed as the best oolong tea. Drinking oolong tea has many pharmaceutical effects, such as reducing fat content and losing weight.
White tea is a lightly oxidized tea grown and harvested primarily in China, mostly in the Fujian and Zhejiang province. Native to Fuding County, white tea enjoys a history of roughly 200 years. Drinking white tea can help reduce cholesterol, decrease blood pressure, and improve the function of blood vessels, thereby decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Yellow tea usually implies a special tea processed similarly to green tea, but with a slower drying phase, where the damp tea leaves are allowed to sit and yellow. The tea generally has a very yellow-green appearance and a smell different from both white tea and green tea. Yellow tea contains large amounts of digestive enzymes, which are good for the spleen and stomach and can help ease indigestion, loss of appetite and obesity. Yellow tea is rich in polyphenols, amino acids, soluble sugar and vitamins, all of which can help prevent esophageal cancer effectively. In addition, more than 85% of the natural substances can be retained in the yellow tea leaves, which are effective in preventing cancer, sterilization and anti-inflammatory. All these functions are what other varieties of tea leaves can never compare to.
Dark Tea (Brick Tea)
Dark tea is a variety of post-fermented tea produced in China. Post-fermentation is a tea production style in which the tea leaves undergo a microbial fermentation process after they are dried and rolled. Dark tea is mainly cultivated in Sichuan, Yunnan, Hubei and Hunan provinces. The original tea leaves for making dark tea are crude, and the base tea is rolled, moistened, and placed in heaps to dry. In terms of geographical varieties, dark tea can be categorized into four kinds, namely Hunan dark tea, Sichuan dark tea, Yunnan dark tea (pu-er) and Hubei dark tea.
Why do the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people like drinking tea?
In ancient China, tea enjoyed popularity among the people as it was a healthy drink. In modern times, why do the Chinese people and even people from around the world still like drinking tea?
1. When tea was first made in ancient China, it was regarded as something precious. It was then popular among the nobility. Later with the prevalence of tea cultivation, it started to find its way into the daily life of the ordinary people, and drinking tea consequently became a habit for the Chinese people. In ancient times, tea leaves were also used for communicative purposes, serving to bridge the distance between people. So in the daily conversation of the Chinese people, they would normally say “come over and have a cup of tea” as a way of building connection with others.
2. Drinking tea can have many pharmaceutical effects. As a kind of herb, tea is known to have dieresis effect, helping reduce fat and decrease blood pressure. With the pursuit for a healthy lifestyle, tea has become an integral part of people’s daily life.
3. Some people have a penchant for collecting tea, which partly contributes to the overpriced tea leaves in the auction market. Collecting tea as a piece of artwork represents people’s cultural pursuit.
Are there any itineraries related to Chinese tea culture?
Pu-er tea has its own unique cultural aspect and history. In the old days, it was transported through the Tea and Horse Trail, which started from Pu’er city and Yiwu, Xishuangbanna and stretched all the way to Lhasa, Tibet, covering such places as Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-la. As an important trade route interlinking China and South Asia, the Tea and Horse Trail made it possible for the transportation of tea leaves from Tibet to Nepal and India. So if you are interested in the history and culture of the Tea and Horse Trail, you can make your own plan by referring to our Tea and Horse Trail itinerary.