China is the motherland of tea. Chinese people used to drink tea every day in the whole country. Human cultivation of tea plants started at least two thousand years ago. Today, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world.
Since ancient times, the Chinese have developed an art form to drink tea called "tea-drinking". This art form involves numerous aspects including the way of the making of tea, the way of brewing, and the drinking utensils like the tea pot.
Tea along with silk and porcelain have been very important for Chinese economy and its exports since European known them, a thousand years ago. Currently around forty countries in the world grow the Chinese tea.
Types of Chinese tea
There are several types of tea due to the diversity of climates, geography and methods for its process. The most important are:
- Green tea: This variety conserves the natural color of the tea leaves without fermentation during its processing. This includes the Longjing tea of Zhejiang Province, Maofeng of Anhui Province and Biluochun of Jiangsu.
- Black tea: Also known as "red tea" in China, this variety ferments the tea before baking - reverse to green tea. This includes the Qihong of Anhui , Dianhong of Yunnan, Suhong of Jiangsu, Chuanhong of Sichuan and Huhong of Hunan.
- Wulong tea: This corresponds to a variety between the green and the black teas, consumed after partial fermentation. It is a specialty from the Southeastern coast of China including Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwan.
- Compressed tea: Also known as "black tea" or "brick tea" in China, This is good for transport and storage. It is principally produced in Northern provinces including Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan and Yunnan.
- Scented tea: This kind of tea is prepared by incorporating fragrant flowers in the tea during its processing. Jasmine and magnolia are the favorite flowers to be mixed with the tea.
Properties of tea-drinking
Tea has always been a daily necessity of Chinese population. Itís a strong custom in China to have a cup of tea after meal.
In summer or warm zones, tea gives the sensation of dispelling the heat and brings a feeling of relaxation.
The tea production has also medical purposes. The tea leaf has anti-inflammatory and germicidal properties. It is a stimulant for the nerve centre and the process of metabolism. Finally, tea contents many vitamins and is healthy for smokers because helps to discharge nicotine.
Conversely, consuming high concentration of tea may produce indigestion or constipation; insomnia; blood-pressure disorders; reduce the milk of a breast-feeding mother, and put a brown color on the teeth of young people. But it is not hard to avoid these adverse effects: simply don't drink your tea too strong.
A tea-plant need five years to its leaves can be picked, and the tree is productive for around 30 years. When the plant is old, the trunk has to be cut off to force new stems to grow out of the roots in the next years. Doing this several times, a tee-plant may serve for l00 years.
The fertilization of tea gardens usually includes Soya-bean cakes and other organic products. Chemical fertilizers are rarely used, in fact, when pests are discovered; the affected plants are removed to avoid their spread, and the use of pesticides.
The season of tea-picking depends on local climate and its geography, varying in each province, but in general it is between March and October. An expert picker can only collect around a pound of green tea leaves per day.
The collected leaves must be parched in tea cauldrons. This work was done manually in the past, but now it is mechanized. The tea-cauldrons are heated electrically to a temperature of around 25oC or 74oF. Four pounds of fresh leaves is transformed into a pound of parched tea in the cauldrons. To produce 2 lbs of finished tea, 60, 000 tender leaves must be plucked.
Several machines help in the processes of grinding, parching, rolling, shaping and drying other grades of tea, making around 60 lbs of finished tea in an hour.
Many regions of China produce their local teas, from Hainan lsland down in the southernmost to Shandong Province in the north, from Tibet in the southwest to Taiwan across the country. More than 20 provinces make tea. These provinces are separated in four great productive areas: Jiangnan, Jiangbei, the Southwest and Lingnan.
In Hangzhou, can be found the unique national museum dedicated to tea. In this place is an exhaustive description of the historic progress of tea culture in China.