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Confessions… Two Leaves & a Bud

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I have to admit – I am a tea-junkie (I have never drunk a cup of coffee in my life, honestly!). And when I say tea, I mean the real thing,  made from the tea plant, i.e. mostly black or green tea. Don´t try me  with so-called „strawberry tea“ or „Christmas tea“!

The youngest parts of the tea bush that are harvested

China has an incredibly long and comprehensive history in cultivating and processing tea that has originated there. Tea is deeply woven into the history and culture of China. It is considered as one of the seven necessities of Chinese life, along with firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce and vinegar. And of course there are some legends around the origin of tea, the most popular one: Shen Nong, patriarch of a tribe in prehistoric China, appr. 2737 B.C. tried to find a medicine to fight the plague – and in tasting all kinds of herbs and plants, tea was discovered by chance.

Shen Nong tasting herbs. “The Art Of Tea in China”, Foreign Languages Press Beijing

Palatial Pleasure (detail). “The Art of Tea in China” Foreign Languages Press Beijing

I only started to get an idea of the vast variety of teas in China. Unfortunately, most Chinese teas are consumed in China and are not exported, so if you have a chance to taste a variety of tea while being in China – do it!

Chinese teas are classified according to quality (not to the region of growth), which results mainly from the production process. The main categories are: White, Green, Yellow, Oolong, Red, and Black Tea including Pu´Er Tea. All these varieties are made from leaves of the tea bush, botanically called Camellia sinensis. They differ from each other mainly in the degree of oxidisation – with White and Green Tea being not oxidised and Red and Black Tea being fully oxidised.

Within each of these categories there are many many varieties – and additionally Green or Red Tea can be flavoured with e.g. Jasmine flowers or rose buds, tea leaves may be dried over special wood in order to obtain a smoked aroma, tea may be compressed into cakes, and it may come in different shapes, e.g. in the shape of needles, a blossom, a dragon, plaits or a shell – one of the most beautiful examples is folded Green Tea in the shape of a shell with a blossom or a bud inside: when hot water is poured over, the tea leaves unfold and a (e.g.) enclosed plum and a chrysanthemum blossom are floating upwards.

There are many occasions for enjoying tea: in the mornings I prefer a strong English black blend with milk and sugar (I am no breakfast eater), definitely not very Chinese-like, this is more the British style 😉 – depending on the weather a soft Red Tea or Jasmine Tea with lunch – a refreshing Green or White Tea on a hot summer afternoon – and I only just get to know the pleasures of Oolong teas!

Did you know that a “Tea competition” has been a popular game in ancient times? And that in China the first monograph worldwide on tea has been compiled in the 8th century? And tea was being praised in poems? To be continued in additional posts!

Further bits:
China National Tea Museum, Hangzhou.
Quite comprehensive intro to Tea (wiki).
For those who like it more the modern & fun style: Bubble Tea.
And, yes there is an EXPO, so if you have nothing better to do in June 2013…

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