According to popular legend, tea was discovered by Chinese Emperor Shennong in 2737 BC when a leaf from a ''Camilla sinensis'' tree fell into water the emperor was boiling. Not everyone agrees on the origin, but no one disputes that 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, sauce and vinegar.
Some writers classify tea into four categories, white, green, oolong and black. Others add categories for red, scented and compressed teas. All of these come from varieties of the ''Camilla sinensis'' plant. Chinese flower tea , while popular, is not a true tea. Most Chinese tea is consumed in China and is not exported. Green tea is the most popular type of tea used 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 Tie Guan Yin 鐵觀音, for example, is traced back to a single plant discovered in Anxi 安溪 in the Fujian province. Other teas draw some of their characteristics from local growing conditions. The largest factor in the wide variations comes from differences in processing after the tea is harvested. White and green teas are cooked 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.
Tea leaf selection
The highest grade white tea, yellow tea and green tea are made from tender tea shoots picked 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.
The more oxidised tea such as red tea or oolong tea are made from more matured leaves. The Anxi Tieguanyin, for example, is made from one bud with two to four leaves.
Not all high grade green tea is made from tender tea shoots. The highly regarded green tea is made from more matured leaves.
Traditionally these tender tea shoots are picked before 5 April, or Qing Ming Jie. The standard practice is to start picking when 5% of the garden is ready, or when the tea buds reach certain size. In some tea gardens, tea shoots are picked daily, or every 2 days.
Chinese Tea history
Tea is native to China. The ancient Chinese used them for medical purposes, then developed the infusion we know as ''tea''; to this day tea is said to purge the digestive system of 'toxins'. Later the Chinese learned to grow tea plants and use their leaves to make various types of tea.
Many different types of tea were grown during each of the in China.
The Tang Dynasty
A list of the differing grades of tea grown in the Tang Dynasty:
* Premier Grade Tea: Xiazhou, Guangzhou, Huzhou, Yuezhou, Pengzhou.
* Second Grade Tea: Jingzhou, Ranzhou, Changzhou, Mingzhou.
* Third Grade Tea: Shouzhou, Hangzhou, Muzhou, Hengzhou, Taizhou, Xuanzhou, Yiazhou, Luzhou.
* Fourth Grade Tea: Jinzhou, Lianzhou, Huangzhou, Sozhou, Yunzhou, Hanzhou, Meizhou.
Tea dates back to the West Zhou Period in ancient China, when the Chinese used tea as offerings. Since then, tea leaves have been eaten as vegetables, used as medicine, and, since the Han dynasty, infused in boiling water, the new drink making tea into a major commodity.
The Song Dynasty
Tea was an important crop during the Song Dynasty. Tea farms covered 242 counties. This included expensive ''tribute tea''; tea from Zhejiang and Fujian provinces, where some was exported to Southeast Asian and the Arab countries.
In the Song Dynasty, tea started to be pressed into , some embossed with patterns of the dragon and the and was called exotic names including:
Large tea cake, Small Dragon tea cake, Surpass Snow Dragon ball cake, Fine Silver Sprout, Cloud Leaf, Gold Money, Jade Flower, Inch of Gold, Longevity Sprout, Eternal Spring Jade Leave, Dragon in the Clouds, Longevity Dragon Sprout, Dragon Phoenix and Flower, Eternal Spring Silver Sprout.
The Ming Dynasty
Ming dynasty scholar 文震亨 Wen Zhenheng's book 长物志 Zhang Wu Zhi chapter 12 contains description of several famous Ming dynasty teas:
Tiger Hill Tea and Heaven Pool Tea
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 Chinese government. Some, however, consider its taste to be second to Heaven Pool tea. Zhen Heng.
Jie Tea from Chang Xing of Zhejiang is superb and highly regarded, though rather expensive.
Those from Jing Qi find it is slightly inferior.
NB: "Jie" is the short hame for "Luo Jie". Luo Jie was the name of a mountain bordering Zhejiang and Jing Qi , where "jie"-- meant boundary. Chang Xin was south of Luo Jie mountain, Jing Qi was north of Luo Jie. Chang Xin retains its name till today.
Luo Jie tea from Gu Chu mountain in Chang Xing county in Zhejiang was also known as Gu Chu Voilet Shoot. Gu Chu Voilet Shoot had been imperial tribute tea since the Tang dynasty for nearly nine hundred years until the middle of the Qin dynasty. Gu Chu Voilet Shoot was revived again in the seventies as a top grade tea in China.
NB. Jin Qi is now called Yi Xin township. Jin Qi tea was also known as Yang Xian tea. Ruo Leaves are leaves from Indocalamus tessellatus bamboo. The leaf is about 45 cm long.
Liu An Tea
"Liu An" tea is used for Chinese medicine, although if it is not baked right, it cannot let out its aroma and has a bitter taste. The inherent quality of this tea is actually quite good. Wen Zhenheng
Note: Liu An is a county in Anhui. Liu An tea is still produced from Liu An county in Anhui province in China. The Liu An tea from the Bat Cave of Jin Zai county is of superior quality, as thousand of bats in the cave can provide an ideal fertilizer for the tea plants.
Song Luo Tea
Song Luo tea is manufactured at Song Luo mountain located north of Xiu Ning township in An Hui proovince in China. The tea farms are scattered between a height of six to seven hundred meters on the mountain.
There is no real Song Luo tea outside an area of a dozen mu* and only one or two families possess the refined skill to prepare Song Luo tea. Recently the tea hand-baked by mountain monks is even better.
Genuine Song Luo tea is produced at the foot of the Dong Shan and on top of the Tian Chi , highly treasured by people in Xin An county. It is also a favourite for the people of Nan Du and Qu Zong counties, due to its ease in brewing and intense aroma.
* One mu = 667 square meter.
Dragon Well Tea and Eyes on Heaven Tea
Long Jing and Tian Mu may match Heaven Pool tea due to the weather in their growing regions. Because the cold season comes earlier to the mountains, there is abundant snow in the winter, hence the tea plants germinate later.
Long Jing tea is manufactured in the West Lake district in Hangzhou city, China. There is a Longjing on the Feng Huang mountain. Tian Mu mountain is located in Lin An county in the north west of Zhejiang province. There are two 1500-meter peaks, each with a pond on top filled with crystal clear water looking like an eye, hence the name of Eyes on Heaven.
* Red tea
* White tea
* Black tea
* Oolong tea
* Pu-erh tea
* Flower tea
* Yellow tea
* Tieguanyin tea
* Quick tea
* Medicinal tea
* Kudin tea
* Chrysanthemum tea
*2007 - ''All In This Tea''. Co-directed by Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht.