First phase of tea culture
The founder of tea was Shen Nong (神农). He spent his whole life researching and tasting plants, trying to find herbal remedies for treating people’s illnesses. He was respected so much that he became the God of the Chinese people, their first "Yan Emperor (炎帝)". Over thousands of years, there have been many depictions of Shen Nong (神农), and in all of these he is holding herbs either in his mouth or in his hand.
The book “Ben Cao Jing (本草经)”, China's first herbal medicine book, was probably compiled 1123 BCE. It mentions that Shen Nong (神农) was poisoned while tasting unknown herbs, and he cured himself by drinking tea. Tea was documented as an antidote and an antibiotic more than two thousand years ago.
As civilised society and agricultural methods progressed, Wu Lizhen (吴理真), the world's first tea man, cultivated tea in plantations during the Xi Han Dynasty (西汉) in about year 53 BCE. Differences in soil and climate in different locations were noted, tea planting and production increased, and the tea industry developed rapidly with regional differences. Agricultural improvements of Tang (唐618-907 CE) and Song (宋 960-1279CE) Dynasties included irrigation, and resulted in increased food production, population growth and trade, including with Europe via the Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road. Tea production increased and tea changed from being a rare herbal medicine to a daily healthy drink among the upper classes.
Many were involved in the development of tea culture. Lu Yu (陆羽733-804 CE), known as the Sage of Tea, was an advocate of research, education and promotion of tea culture; his book “The Classic of Tea (茶经)” was the first definitive work on the cultivation, making and drinking of tea. However, the World’s first tea culture phase started with Wu Lizhen’s (吴理真) planting technology and the development of plantations leading to the “mass production” of tea.
Second phase of tea culture
Although tea was introduced into Europe about a thousand years ago, it was in the early seventeenth century that tea made an impact on the European market. In 1608, the first European ship with a cargo of tea sailed from China to Holland, and tea gradually entered France, Spain, Russia and England. England differed from other countries in that the coffee culture was quite advanced, and tea was sold at the coffee houses as a health beverage.
By the late seventeenth century, the British people had developed their own tea culture, and "afternoon tea" became fashionable in “society”. During the industrial Revolution, tea breaks become the norm, and tea became popular in the colonies. Each country developed its own tea culture, but the globalisation of the British “tea break” heralded the world’s Second Tea Culture Phase, and for over 200 years, tea continued to be the beverage of choice.
Third phase of tea culture
In recent times - particularly in the twenty-first century - science and technology, and especially information technology have contributed enormously to a change in our way of life. While we pay more attention to health issues, the quickening pace of life makes it difficult to maintain health standards and healthy food habits. We need to slow down, take time to unwind, and what better way is there than to sit down with friends and have a relaxing cup of tea! It isn’t as stimulating as coffee but is refreshing and provides healthy-giving nutrients.
Some research and development has been done, but much more is needed to discover how plants, especially tea, can be used for nutrition, health products and medicine. With increasing awareness of health needs, and changes in technology and research, we believe that we are on the brink of The World’s Third Tea Culture Phase. We can be part of this phase by slowing down with friends over a refreshing and relaxing cup of tea! Consumers are important in driving change in research and development.
Origin & Development of Tea
The earliest tea originated from the Camellia Sinensis tea plant growing in the Wuling Mountains (武陵山脉). The Wuling Mountains are about 1,000 meters above sea level and are at the junction of Hubei, Hunan, Chongqing, and Guizhou provinces.
Today, there are over 2,500 varieties of the Camellia Sinensis plant which can broadly be categorised into six main categories; green, white, yellow, purple (Oolong), black and dark tea.
The first category: the earliest tea - Green tea 绿茶
Green tea has the longest history, is grown over the largest area, has the greatest variety, and the greatest production of all the teas. Green tea is not fermented and is the closest to the original tea, it retains the natural substances of fresh tea, contains tea polyphenols, catechins, chlorophyll, caffeine, vitamins and other nutrients. It accounts for more than 60% of all the tea produced in China (Statistics of China Association of Native and Animal Food Importers and Exporters in 2020).
The three processes used in the processing of green tea are degreening, rolling and drying.
The four degreening (stabilising) methods are steaming, sun drying, frying and baking.
(By degreening, the tissue of the fresh leaves is changed by high temperature and the content of the leaves is transformed. This is the first process in green tea preparation, and is the most important part in achieving a quality clear green tea infusion. The purposes of degreening are: to destroy the enzyme activity in fresh leaves, thereby preventing the enzymatic oxidation of polyphenol compounds and maintaining the green colour of the leaves and the characteristics of clear green tea leaf; to partly dry the leaf and toughen it in preparation for the rolling process; to enhance the aroma of the tea.)
Steamed green tea
Steamed green tea refers to the finished green tea made by using high temperature (steam) to degreen it. Steamed green tea is the most traditional and the earliest tea production process and it is still used in and near the valley of the Wuling Mountains.
The best known steamed green teas include "Yulu 玉露" and other like "Jiancha煎茶”, the latter developing in Japan with the spread of Chinese cultures in the Tang Dynasty (唐朝 618-907 CE). Steamed green tea is still used in the production of most Japanese green tea.
Sun-dried green tea
Sun-dried green tea is also called Sunshine green tea. This is mainly produced in Sichuan, Yunnan, Hunan, Hubei, Guangdong, Guangxi provinces, and areas where the day-night temperature variations are great. In this climate, the tea grows slowly and contains more vitamins, minerals and trace elements beneficial to the human body than tea grown in southern areas.
According to the Tea Research Institute of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the content of catechins and amino acids in the sun-dried green tea is 13.7% and 5.3% higher than that of similar products of Southern areas, and it has the characteristics of thick leaves, deep taste, strong aroma and resistance over-brewing.
Well known Sun-dried green teas are "Dianqing 滇青" and "Chuanqing 川青".
Fried green tea
Fried green tea gets its name from the stir-fried method of degreening. There are three categories depending on shape: long fried green, round fried green and flat fried green.
Long stir-fried green tea looks like eyebrows and is also known as Meicha (眉茶). It is characterised by a tight knot, strong lasting fragrance, green colour, and rich taste.
Round stir-fried green tea is also known as pearl tea or gun powder tea. It has a round and tight shape similar to beads, a strong aroma and foam resistance.
Flat fried green tea is also known as flat tea, is flat and smooth, tastes delicate and mellow.
Fried green tea is mainly produced in Anhui, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, and Fujian provinces. Well known fried green teas are "Xihu Longjing 西湖龙井" and "Biluochun 碧螺春".
Baked green tea
As its name implies, is made by baking green tea. The tea leaves have a slightly curved shape, are dark green and dull, the aroma is fragrant and rich, and it has a baked flavour.
Baked green tea is mainly produced in Anhui, Zhejiang, Fujian and Jiangxi provinces.
Well known fried green teas are "Huangshan Maofeng 黄山毛峰" and "Taiping Houkui 太平猴魁".
The second category: White tea 白茶
White tea is a micro-fermented tea (fermentation about 5 -15%) and, because of its processing, has a speckled white appearance. White tea contains essential nutrients to maintain life, such as protein, amino acids, sugars, fatty acids, vitamins, chlorophyll, carotene and various minerals.
It is divided into New white tea and Old white tea. White tea, when properly stored for more than three years, will become Old white tea; the longer the storage time, the better its nutrition effect and its value. It has the function of calming the liver, reducing blood pressure and reducing fat, dispelling alcohol, and aiding digestion.
White tea accounts for about 2.5% of total tea production in China. It is expensive to produce because only the tea tips are used. It is produced mainly in Fujian, with a small amount grown and produced in Zhejiang. Best known are “Baihao Yinzheng 白毫银针”, “Baimudan 白牡丹” and “Gongmei 贡眉”
The third category: Yellow tea 黄茶
Yellow tea is a relatively old tea, recorded in the Tang Dynasty in the 14th year of Zong Dali (CE 779). It happened by accident because of the improper processing of green tea. It is a light fermented tea (fermentation about 10 - 20%). It is characterised by yellow leaves and a yellow infusion, clear and pleasant aroma, and a thick and refreshing taste.
More than 85% of the natural substances are retained. It is rich in tea polyphenols, amino acids, soluble sugars, vitamins and other nutrients needed by the human body, with the health-care effects of strengthening the body and helping reduce the ageing process.
Like white tea, it is expensive to produce, accounting for only about 0.5% of the tea produced in China. It is mainly produced in Hunan, Sichuan, Anhui with a small amount from Zhejiang, Guangdong, Taiwan. Best known yellow teas are “Junshan Yinzhen 君山银针”, “Mengding Huangya 蒙顶黄牙” and “Huoshan Huangya霍山黄芽”.
The fourth category: Purple tea (Wulong tea 乌龙茶)
Purple tea, also known as Oolong tea - Wulong tea in China 乌龙茶 - is a specialty of China. There are numerous varieties, each named after different tea tree varieties such as Oolong (乌龙), Shuixian (水仙) and Tieguanyin(铁观音). The quality of tea from the same tree variety can vary according to the growth region, so purple tea is prefixed with a distinguishing regional name. Because Oolong tea is so well-known, many people give the Oolong name to any purple tea.
Purple tea (Oolong tea) is a semi-fermented tea (fermentation about 30-60%). It is rich in tea polyphenols, plant alkaloids, catechins, a variety of amino acids, vitamins and many minerals, and it can help against ageing and the effects of radiation. Purple tea is based on green tea but has the fermented characteristics of black tea. It is the first choice of the kung fu teas.
Purple tea (Oolong tea) accounts for about 9.3% of the output of the whole six tea categories in China, mainly originating in Fujian and then spreading to Taiwan and Guangdong. Best known purple teas (Oolong tea) are “Tieguanyin 铁观音” from Anxi in Fujian province, “Da Hong Pao 大红袍” from Wuyi Mountain in Fujian Province, “Fenghuang Danzong 凤凰单枞” from northern Guangdong Province and “Dongding Oolong 冻顶乌龙” from Taiwan.
The fifth category: Black tea - or Red Tea in China 红茶
Black tea originated in the late Ming dynasty and early Qing dynasty (approximately CE 1200). In the world, most of the tea produced and consumed is black tea, resulting in a competitive market. The leaves are a red colour and the infusion is red.
Black tea is a fully fermented tea (fermentation 80-100%), is sweet and mellow. The leaves used are similar to those of green tea, using new buds of the tea trees and processed without high temperature degreening. The enzyme activity is enhanced by withering and rolling. When the temperature, humidity and oxygen levels are right, the enzymatic oxidation of tea polyphenols takes place through a series of biochemical changes, such as degradation, oxidation polymerisation, decomposition transformation, cracking, esterification and isomerisation. The characteristics of red tea are its red leaves, aroma and taste and its red-coloured tea infusion.
Black tea accounts for 13.5% of the tea produced in all six categories in China. According to the processing method and the shape of the tea produced, it can be divided into three categories: Xiaozhong black tea, Gongfu black tea and Red broken tea.
Xiaozhong black tea (Red tea)
There are two varieties, “Zhengshan Xiaozhong 正山小种” and “Waishan Xiaozhong 外山小种”, both native to the Wuyi Mountain area. Lapsang souchong is the best known. It is characterised by its strong stringy shape, dark colour, strong aroma of pine smoke, and its infusion is a deep golden colour, and it has a bold taste.
Gongfu black tea (Red tea)
This is a thin-leaved and tight black tea. It is exported as a traditional Chinese tea. It has specific production methods, from picking to processing. The leaves are long and thin and complete, and the infusion is light and bright red, and has a mellow taste. Gongfu black tea is mainly produced in Anhui, Yunnan, Fujian, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan provinces.
The best known are Anhui “Qimen Hong 祁门红”, Hubei “Yi Hong 宜红” “Lichuan Hong 利川红”, Yunnan “Dian Hong 滇红”, Guangdong “Yin Hong No: 9 英红九号”, Fujian “Min Hong 闵红”, Jiangxi “Ning Hong 宁红”.
Red broken tea (Red tea)
According to its shape, red broken tea can be subdivided into leaf tea, broken tea and slice tea. It is grown extensively in Yunnan, Guangdong, Hainan, Guangxi. It is mainly exported.
The sixth category: Dark tea - or Black Tea in China 黑茶
Dark tea is a special kind of tea, and is usually fermented twice (fermentation 100% +). Dark tea refers to the specific microbial fermentation process in the initial preparation and the pressing of this raw tea; it is called pressed tea and refermented tea. Generally, the longer the storage time of dark tea, the better its nutrition effect, and mellow flavour. This is one of the most valuable of collectable teas.
Dark tea originated in Sichuan province and its production can be traced back to the Tang (唐618-907 CE) and Song (宋 960-1279 CE) Dynasties. Dark tea and pressed tea are rich in vitamins and minerals. In a district where the staple diet is beef, mutton and cheese with little vegetable intake, long-term drinking of dark tea and compressed tea can supply essential vitamins and minerals.
Caffeine, vitamins, amino acids, phospholipids etc in dark tea are helpful to human digestion. Compared with all teas, the tea polysaccharide content is the highest in Dark tea. (Tea polysaccharide is a kind of acid glycoprotein, and, combined with many inorganic salts, has a series of health functions such as lowering blood lipids, lowering blood sugar, improving body immunity, anti-thrombosis, anti-radiation and so on. In addition, tea polysaccharides can protect and stimulate the secretion of insulin, and effectively reduce blood glucose by enhancing the activity of hepatic glucokinase.)
Dark tea accounts for about 12.5% output in all the six tea categories in China. It is mainly produced in Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Yunnan and Guangxi provinces.
Well known dark teas are “Mizhuan 米砖茶” of Hunan, “Qingzhuan 青砖茶” of Hubei, “Fu cha 茯茶’’ of Shaanxi, “Pu’er 普洱茶” of Yunnan and “Liubao 六堡茶” of Guangxi.
This information about tea is based on the data of thousands of years of Chinese medicine. It is common knowledge in Chinese culture.
Different countries and cultures have created their own methods of making and drinking tea. No matter the brewing method, it is essential to have guidelines for the correct temperatures for the different categories of tea to produce the best brew for aroma, palate and after taste.
Green tea is a non-fermented tea, so it is best to keep the brewing temperature between 80-85°C;
White tea and Yellow tea are both slightly fermented, so the temperature should be kept around 85°C;
Purple tea (Oolong tea) is a medium fermented tea, and the brewing temperature should be about 90°C;
Black tea is fully fermented tea, the colour of the tea is darker, and the water temperature should be about 95°C, depending on the shape of the tea. If the tea leaves are large, the water temperature can be 100°C. If the tea is ground or in a tea bag, it should not exceed 95°C;
Dark tea is a deeply fermented or re-fermented tea that is darker in colour, so the water temperature needs to be 100°C. This tea contains many tea stems which contain more amino acids, tea polysaccharides and protein than leaves, so a high temperature is essential. For further release of nutrients, this tea can be boiled to suit the taste and the occasion.