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Home >> Life style >> The History of tea in China

The History of tea in China


The history of tea in China is long and complex. The Chinese have enjoyed tea for millennia. Scholars hailed the brew as a cure for a variety of ailments; the nobility considered the consumption of good tea as a mark of their status, and the common people simply enjoyed its flavour.

Historical background

According to legend, tea was first discovered by the Chinese emperor and inventor Shennong in 2737 BCE. It is said that the emperor liked his drinking water boiled before he drank it, so it would be clean, so that is what his servants did. One day, on a trip to a distant region, he and his army stopped to rest. A servant began boiling water for him to drink, and a dead leaf from the wild tea bush fell into the water. It turned a brownish colour, but it was unnoticed and presented to the emperor anyway. The emperor drank it and found it very refreshing, and cha (tea) came into being.

While historically the origin of tea as a medicinal herb useful for staying awake is unclear, China is considered to have the earliest records of tea drinking, with recorded tea use in its history dating back to the first millennium BC. The Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) used tea as medicine. The use of tea as a beverage drunk for pleasure on social occasions dates from the Tang Dynasty(618–907 AD) or earlier.

Early in tea's history, the nature of the beverage and style of tea preparation were quite different from the way we experience tea today. Tea leaves were processed into compressed cakes form. The dried teacake, generally called brick tea was ground in a stone mortar. Hot water was added to the powdered teacake, or the powdered teacake was boiled in earthenware kettles then consumed as a hot beverage.

A form of compressed tea referred to as white tea was being produced as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). This special white tea of Tang was picked in early spring, when the tea bushes had abundant growths which resembled silver needles. These "first flushes" were used as the raw material to make the compressed tea. Tea is an important item in Chinese culture and is mentioned in the Seven necessities of (Chinese) daily life.

Tea roasting

Steaming tea leaves was the primary process used for centuries in the preparation of tea. After the transition from compressed tea, the production of tea for trade and distribution changed once again. The Chinese learned to process tea in a different way in the mid-13th century. Tea leaves were roasted rather than steamed. This is the origin of today's loose teas and the practice of brewed tea.

Tea varieties

Black tea: Assam, Bohea, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Dian Hong, Keemun, Nepalese, Nilgiri, Orange pekoe, Red tea Tibeti, Turkish, Ying De Hong

Oolong tea: Bai Ji Guan, Red Robe,Darjeeling, Oolong, Dongding (Tung-ting), Dong Fang Mei Ren, Huangjin Gui (Golden Osmanthus), Qilan tea ,Pouchong, Rou Gui, Shui Jin Gui, Shui Hsien (Shui Xian), Tie Luohan, Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess)

Green tea: Aracha, Bancha, Green Spira, Chun Mee, Da Fang, Genmaicha, Liuan Leaf, Gunpowder, Gyokuro Hojicha, Hou KuI, Huang Shan Mao Feng, Hyson, Kabusecha, Kamairicha, Konacha, Kukicha, Longjing (Dragon Well), Matcha, Mao Jian, Mecha Meng Ding Gan Lu, Sencha, Shincha, Tamaryokucha

White tea: Bai Hao Yinzhen Bai, Mu Dan, Darjeeling White, Shou Mei, White monkey paw

Yellow tea: Junshan Yinzhen, Huoshan Huangya

Post-fermented tea: Puerh

Blended and flavoured teas: Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Jasmine tea, Lady Grey, Lapsang souchong, Masala chai, Touareg tea, Prince of Wales, Russian Caravan

At Zitan we sell little tins of tea that serve as a sampler for you to try the various varieties that may be unfamiliar to you. You can try Jasmine, Orchid, White Tea, Poo Er, as well as other flavours. Please contact details for availability.