It is said that tea shrubs were first discovered in the tropical and sub-tropical climate zone in the southwestern part of China, where primeval forests prevailed and the warm and moist setting was favorable for the growth of tea shrubs. Wild tea trees of 2,700 years old and planted tea trees of 800 years old can still be found in the area.
Shen Nong Shi, the God of Agriculture, was believed to be the first to discover tea. In his “Book of Herbs”, it says that “Shen Nong shi personally tasted hundreds of species of herbs and he was hit by 72 poisons in a single day. But he used a kind of tree leaves to ease his case and it turned out to be tea tree."
Chinese tea was primarily used as a medicine before the 8th century B.C.During the Spring and Autumn Period, Chinese people chewed tea leaves and enjoyed the taste of the juice itself.
In the next stage, Chinese tea was cooked like a soup. Tea leaves were eaten along with the soup. Tea leaves were even mixed with food. Ancient Chinese books documented that tea was eaten and used with other spices to cook.
During the Qin and Han dynasties (221 BC - 8 AD), simple processing of Chinese tea emerged. Tea leaves were pressed into balls, dried and stored. When served, tea balls were crushed and mixed with green onion, ginger and then boiled in teapots. This is the point where Chinese tea turned from a medicine into a beverage. Also, it marked the beginning of Chinese tea being used to treat guests.
Chinese tea evolved from a palace treat to a common beverage during the Jin Dynasty. Tea trading did not start until the Tang Dynasty (618 AD - 907 AD) when techniques in tea plantation and processing advanced at great speed, resulting in a lot of famous teas.
In the Tang Era, Chinese tea was processed and distributed in the form of tea cakes. People started to get serious about making tea. Specialized tea tools were used and tea books were published - including the most famous "Literature of Tea" by Lu Yue. The art of Chinese tea started to take shape.
"Tea became popular in Tang and prospered in Song (960 - 1276)". At the beginning of the Song Dynasty, Chinese tea was kept in the shape of balls and cakes. When served, tea was crushed and boiled with seasoning material. But as tea drinkers became more particular, they paid more attention to the original shape, color, and taste of tea leaves. Seasoning material faded out and loose leaf tea started to take the center stage.
Chinese Tea Classifications
Although there are hundreds of varieties of Chinese tea, they can be mainly classified into five categories, that is, green tea, blacktea, brick tea, scented tea, and Oolong tea.
With its natural fragrance, green tea, as the oldest kind of tea, is widely welcomed by different people. It is baked immediately afterpicking. According to the different ways of processing, it can be divided to many kinds. Among various green tea, Longjing (DragonWell)
Huangshan, Yinzhen (Silver Needle) Tea from Mt. Junshan and Yunwu (Cloud and Mist) Tea from Mt. Lushan are most famous.
Black tea is much more favored by foreigners. Different from green tea, black tea is a kind of fermented tea. After the fermentation,its color changes from green to black. The most famous black teas in China are "Qi Hong (originated in Anhui), "Dian Hong"(originated inYunnan), and "Ying Hong" (originated in Guangdong).
Oolong tea, with an excellent combination of the freshness of green tea and the fragrance of black tea, become popular with more and more people. It has a good function in helping body building and dieting. Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwan are the major producing areas of this kind of tea. Oolong tea grows on cliffs, the hard picking process make it the most precious tea.
Scented tea, which is very popular in Northern China, in fact is a mixture of green tea with flower petals of rose, jasmine, orchid andplum through an elaborate process. Among this type, jasmine tea is common.
Brick tea, usually pressed into brick shape, is mainly produced in Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan, Yunnan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Brick tea is made from black tea or green tea and is pressed into blocks. This kind of tea is popular with minority people in border regions. The most famous one is "Pu'er Tea" made in Yunnan province.
There are other kinds of tea. Among them white tea is special and is not very familiar to most people. Just as its name suggests, this kind of tea is as white as silver. It is mainly produced in Zhenhe and Fuding in Fujian Province, but popular in Southeast Asia. Famous varieties include "Silver Needle" and "White Peony".
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