Chinese tea culture has a significant difference with that of Japan, America and Europe. Generally, it is a culture to make and drink tea. The traditional tea culture of ancient China combines firmly with its history, culture, economy and humanities. Thus the Chinese tea culture, which is extensive and profound, not only includes material culture but also contains spiritual civilization. The tea saint Luyu in Tang dynasty sounded the horn of Chinese tea culture. From then on the spirit of tea started to penetrate into towns and cities, deepening into the country's poems, paintings, calligraphy, religion as well as medicine. The history and development of Chinese tea is not just a simple process of the diet culture formation, but reflects a nationality’s ethos which possesses a history of more than 5000 years.
Chinese tea generally represents tea leaves which have been processed using methods inherited from ancient China. As legend goes, the tea was discovered by Chinese Emperor Shennong in 2737BC when a leaf from a Camellia sinensis tree fell into water he was boiling. Shennong then found a special flavor from the boiled water with tea leaf in. With his promotion drinking tea has become more and more popular until it is deeply woven into the history and culture of China. Particularly, tea is considered as one of the seven necessities in Chinese life, along with firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce and vinegar such basic living elements.
Tea dates back to the Western Zhou Period of ancient China, when the Chinese used tea as a ritual offering. Since then, tea leaves have been eaten as a vegetable and also used as medicine. From the time of Han Dynasty, with tea infused in boiling water, the new type of drink made tea into a major commodity. Production of tea became a state monopoly during the Tang Dynasty with the market strictly controlled by central government. At that time tea was labeled with politics since it communicates Central Plains and west part of Chinese boundaries. The Ancient Tea Horse Road has to be mentioned here as a network of mule caravan paths mainly winding through the mountains of Yunnan Province in Southwest China emerged in Tang Dynasty. It is also referred to as the Southern Silk Road as well as the Ancient Tea Horse Road. From around a thousand years ago, the Ancient Tea Horse Route was a trade link from Yunnan Province of China, to India via Burma, to Tibet and to central China via Sichuan Province. The old tea-trading route was the unofficial international business and trade route that firstly formed in the late 6th century. Moreover, the Ancient Tea Horse Road is also the corridor for the communications of nationalities economy and culture in southwest of China. The old tea-trading route is not only a extraordinary special appellation for areas but also a fantastic tourism route which combines the most spectacularly natural scenery and the most mysterious culture. There are endless of the cultural heritages waiting for us to explore. In addition to tea, the horse caravans carried salt as well. Porters and horses undertook heavy loads along the way, promoting tea trade with their slow but firm pace. It is widely believed that just through this trading network, the tea (typically tea bricks) first spread across China and Asia from its origins in Pu'er county, near Simao Prefecture in Yunnan. The route earned the name Tea Horse Road because of the common trade of Tibetan ponies for Chinese tea, a practice dating back at least to the Song dynasty, when the sturdy horses were important for China to fight warring nomads in the north.
In the Song Dynasty, tea started to be pressed into tea cake, some embossed with patterns of the dragon and the Phoenix. During this time Tiger Hill Tea was purportedly developed as the finest tea in the world, however, the production quantity was rather small, and growing is regulated by the central government.
Chinese tea can be classified into five distinctive categories, which are green tea, white tea, oolong tea, red tea (regarded as black tea in western countries) and post-fermented tea. Green tea is the most popular type of tea consumed in China.
Within these main categories of tea, there are vast sub varieties of individual beverages. Some of the variations are due to different strains of the Camilla plant. The popular tea, Tie Guan Yin, for instance, is traced back to a single plant discovered in Anxi in Fujian province. 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 soon after picking to prevent oxidization, often called non fermentation tea due to the natural enzymes in the leaves. Oolong teas are partially oxidized. Chinese red teas are fully oxidized. Other differences come from variations in the processing steps.
In the long Chinese tea history, it has gradually settled a relatively strict tea leaf selection system. The highest grades of white tea, yellow tea and green tea are made from tender tea shoots picked in early spring. These young tea shoots may consist of a single terminal bud, a bud with an adjacent leaf or a bud with two adjacent slightly unfurled leaves. It is generally required that the leaves are equal in length or shorter than the buds. But not all high grade green tea is made from tender tea shoots, like the highly regarded green tea Liu’an Gua Pian is made from more matured leaves. While the more oxidized tea such as red tea or oolong tea is made from more mature leaves. Traditionally, the tender tea shoots are picked before April 4th or 5th, the Tomb-sweeping Festival. The standard practice is to start picking when 5% of the tea garden is ready, or when the tea buds reach certain size. On some tea mountains, tea shoots are picked daily, or every 2 days.
Green tea is made solely with the leaves of Camellia sinensis that have undergone minimal oxidation during processing. Green tea originates from China and has become associated with many cultures throughout Asia. Over the last few decades green tea has been subjected to many 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. It has recently become more widespread in the West, where black tea (in China, red tea) is traditionally consumed. Famous Chinese green teas include Dragon Well Green tea produced in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, Huangshan Fuzz Tip from Yellow mountain of Anhui Province and Dongting Green Snail Spring from Dongting Lake area.
White tea is a lightly oxidized tea grown and harvested almost exclusively in China, primarily in the Fujian province. White tea comes from the delicate buds and younger leaves of the Chinese Camellia sinensis plant. These buds and leaves are allowed to wither in natural sunlight before they are lightly processed to prevent oxidation or further tea processing. This preserves the characteristic flavor of the white tea. The name "white tea" derives from the fine silvery-white hairs on the unopened buds of the tea plant, which gives the plant a whitish appearance. The manufacturing of white tea is relatively simple compared to that of other teas. The base process for manufacturing white tea is to pick fresh tea leaf, and then wither them. After air drying, solar drying or mechanical drying, white tea has been made. The most famous white tea in China is Baihao Silver Tip coming from Fujian Province as well as Junshan Silver Tip of Dongting Lake area.
Blang, also spelled Bulong, is a Chinese ethnic group which lived in the Lancang river valley during ancient times. It is believed that these people were one branch of a number of peoples that were collectively known to the ancient Chinese as the “Baipu”, literally the "Hundred Pu".
Traditionally, Blang people considered teeth blackened by chewing betel nuts a beauty characteristic. The people of this minority are mostly animists, in addition to ancestor worship. They also combine their native beliefs with Theravada Buddhism.
Oolong tea is a traditional Chinese tea produced through a unique process including withering under the strong sun and oxidation before curling and twisting. The name oolong tea came into the English language from the Chinese name, meaning "black dragon tea". Most oolong teas, especially those of fine quality, involve unique tea plant cultivars that are exclusively used for particular varieties. The degree of fermentation can range from 8% to 85%, depending on the variety and production style. This tea category is especially popular with tea connoisseurs of south China as is the tea preparation process that originated from this area: kungfu tea-making, or the kungfu tea infusion approach. The taste of oolong ranges hugely amongst various sub varieties. It can be sweet and fruity with honey aromas, or woody and thick with roasted aromas, or green and fresh with bouquet aromas, all according to the horticulture and style of production. Several sub varieties of oolong, including those produced in the Wuyi Mountains of northern Fujian and central mountains of Taiwan, are among the most famous Chinese teas. Different varieties of oolong are processed differently, but the leaves are formed into one of two distinct styles. Some are rolled into long curly leaves, while others are “wrap-curled” into small beads, each with a tail. Tie Guan Yin produced in Fujian Province is perhaps the most well-known oolong tea in China. Its name means two characteristics of Tie Guan Yin itself: it weighs as iron and is beautiful as Avalokiteshvara Buddha, from which we can learn its popularity.
Red tea, called as black tea in western countries, is a variety of tea that is more oxidized than the oolong, green, and white varieties. Red tea is generally stronger in flavor and contains more caffeine than the less oxidized teas. In Chinese languages and neighboring countries, red tea is a description of the color of the liquid while the term black tea refers to the color of the oxidized leaves. In Chinese, "black tea" is a commonly used classification for post-fermented teas, such as Pu’er tea. While green tea usually loses its flavor within a year, red tea retains its flavor for several years. For this reason, it has long been an article of trade, and compressed bricks of red tea even served as a form of circulating currency in Mongolia, Tibet, and Siberia into the 19th century. Famous Chinese red teas are Qi red tea of Anhui Province as well as Dian red tea produced in Yunnan Province.
Post-fermented teas are a class of teas that have experienced a period of "aging" in the open air, from several months to years. The exposure of the tea to micro flora, humidity and oxygen in the air causes it to undergo further oxidation through auto-oxidation, fermentation, and possibly some reactivated oxidation enzymes in the tea. This alters the smell of the tea, and typically mellows its taste, turning previously astringent or bitter teas into products that are thick and unctuous, with pleasant taste feel and aftertastes. In Chinese, post-fermented teas are collectively referred to as "dark tea" or "black tea" due to the dark brown infused liquors from this class of teas. This should not be confused with the black tea commonly referred in Western culture, which in East Asian cultures is called "red tea". Pu’er Tea is the most well known post-fermented tea in Chinese. Yunnan province produces the vast majority of Pu'er tea. Indeed, the province is the source of the tea's name, Pu'er Hani and Yi Autonomous County. Pu'er tea is produced in almost every county and prefecture within this province.
Nice place to learn Chinese tea culture:
Meijiawu Tea Village in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province: Meijiawu Tea Garden is located near the beautiful West Lake which is the symbol of Hangzhou City. Meijiawu is for long one of the four Dragon Well Green Tea producing areas. There is no better place than Meijiawu Village for a fan of Chinese tea. Through the green hills southwest of the lake, the road leading to the village of Meijiawu was paved for Zhou Enlai, the 1st premier of China. He was so found of Dragon Well (Longjing) Tea from Meijiawu that he made five visits to this bucolic village. And it was here that President Nixon drank this type of green tea. The beautiful tea plants form many orderly rows like a green carpet. Sipping fresh tea there is always regarded as a visual and gustatory pleasure no one could afford to miss. If coming in appropriate season, tourists may encounter the grand ceremony of tea partaking as well as experiencing the tea baking and stir-frying process.
Chengdu Tea House: Chengdu Tea House has already become a cultural brand of Chengdu’s leisure life. Scattered on the roads and streets of Chengdu, it serves as an indispensible elements in local people’s life. It is an important social interaction and gathering place since ancient times. Chengdu has teahouses in towns and cities everywhere, it’s said that Chengdu has most teahouses in China. Even some people call Chengdu a big tea house. Local people here like sitting in the teahouse, meanwhile chatting with friends or playing Majiang, a popular board game. It is clear that people in the city formed a habit of stop by the teahouses for a while, to make friends, get together with relatives and friends, know about the social trends, find out news and even hearsay. In fact, the teahouse had the function of reconciling social disputes in the old days. More interesting, some teahouses possess the performance of Sichuan opera and the local folk artists. It produces various programs from time to time for the Sichuan dulcimer opera or the traditional operas like mask changing show, spiting fire play and rolling lamp sketch. The teahouse is not a scenic spot, but it is full of sight efficacy of sightseeing and amusing. Coming to Chengdu, it is a wonderful idea for you to have a seat in teahouse and being served by the Doctor Tea who is good at performing pouring tea artistically. It will be a life time experience that hard to forget.
Jiu is the Chinese character that refers to all alcoholic beverages. This character has often been mistranslated into English as "wine" while actually its meaning is closer to "alcoholic beverage" or "liquor". The two main varieties of Chinese alcoholic beverages are the "white liquor" as well as the "yellow liquor". White liquor, or called as white wine, is usually transparent and clear that belongs to the distilled beverage. Yellow liquor, also known as the yellow wine, is fermented beverages which may be clear, beige, or reddish-brown in color. Although not a traditional product, grape wine was firstly mentioned in classical Chinese poems around 2,000 years ago in the Han Dynasty. It has been increasingly produced and consumed in China since 1900s as a result of increased Western influences.
The origins of the alcoholic beverage from fermented grain in China cannot be traced definitively. A legend said that Yidi, the wife of the first dynasty's king Yu (about 2100 BC) invented the method. Another legend says that liquor was invented by one named Du Kang. At that time millet was the main grain, the so-called "yellow liquor", and then rice became more popular. It was not until the 19th century that distilled drinks became more popular.
Traditionally, Chinese distilled liquors are consumed together with food rather than drunk alone. Chinese alcoholic beverages are traditionally warmed before being consumed. The temperature to which the liquor may be warmed ranges between approximately 35°C and 55°C, well below the boiling point of ethanol. Warming the liquor allows its aromas to be better appreciated by the drinker without losing too much alcohol. Optimal temperature for warming depends on the type of beverage as well as the preference of the drinker.
There are three major varieties of Chinese alcoholic beverages introduced as below.
Yellow liquor, called Huangjiu in Chinese, is a kind of grain-based fermented beverages. It is brewed directly from grains such as rice or wheat. Such liquors contain less than 20% alcohol, due to the inhibition of ethanol fermentation at this concentration. These wines are traditionally pasteurized, aged, and filtered before their final bottling for sale to consumers. Moreover, yellow liquor can also be distilled to produce white liquor. White liquor, known as Baijiu locally, is the usually recognized Chinese distilled beverage. As a kind of grain-based distilled beverages, white liquors are also commonly called "hot liquor", shaojiu or "burned liquor" because of the burning sensation in the mouth during consumption, the fact that they are usually warmed before being consumed, or because of the heating required for distillation. Liquors of this type typically contain more than 30% alcohol in volume since they have undergone distillation. Chinese alcoholic beverages may occasionally be made or flavored with fruits, called fruit-based wines. Medicinal herbs and spices are commonly added to Chinese wine. These additives not only impart a reddish, brown, or green color, but also modify the taste and flavor of the liquor itself. Some production processes also add a dark tan color without the addition of herbs.
Important event to learn more about Chinese wine trade:
Qingdao International Beer Festival: founded in 1991, it inaugurates on the second weekend of August in Qingdao, Shandong Province every year.
Qingdao International Beer Festival usually lasts for 16 days. It is one of the major festival activities which take the beer as a medium so melt the economic, trade, tourism, culture into a complex one. Qingdao International Beer Festival is recognized as the largest beer festival in Asia while Qingdao Beer has been topped to one of the three world famous beer brands. Each year it not only attracts more than 20 famous beer manufacturers but also drew nearly 3 million tourists from home and abroad to celebrate this distinguished meeting.
China Wine & Beverage Fair: held twice a year in spring and autumn respectively and has become an important economic event for China’s food industry. After half century of development, China Wine & Beverage Fair has become well-known in both China and abroad for its show area of 100,000 square meters, over 3000 participants, and trading volume of over 20 billion Yuan RMB. With its wide-ranged influence and its increasing unique attraction, China Wine & Beverage Fair is commonly recognized among specialists of sugar, food, distillery and brewery industries. The spring phase of China Wine & Beverage Fair has been held in Chengdu for many years, while its autumn would be held in some northern cities of China.