History, culture and occasions to drink Chinese Tea
I’m Rosie, a 4th generation Chinese tea merchant living in the vibrant city of Melbourne, Australia. I’ve put together this introduction to Chinese tea culture for my Australian friends; the different types of Chinese tea and when to drink them, the ancient stories and legends and the traditional Chinese tea culture and ceremonies.
Born into a family of tea growers, tea has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My interest piqued during a visit to our tea plantations in Fujian, China. Being among our lush tea estates and seeing the love and pride that goes into every tea harvest made me a convert. Quality tea leaves are key to the perfect brew, and I’m proud to put my name to the Australian Tea Store range.
Tea helps wake me in the morning, boosts my concentration in the afternoon, aids digestion after dinner and relaxes me before bed. Sharing Chinese tea with my friends has given us the best excuse for some scrumptious yum cha lunches too!
The history and legends of Chinese Tea
An introduction to Chinese tea wouldn’t be complete without delving into its history and some of the legends. The most popular tale surrounding the discovery of tea is that of Emperor Shen nong, the legendary ruler of China whose name literally translates to “Divine Farmer” as he was also passionate about improving agriculture practices in China.
According to the legend, he was resting under a tea tree following a morning in the field. As Shen nong boiled some water to drink, leaves from the tea tree fell into the boiling water, creating an aromatic brew. He found the brew fragrant and refreshing, and just like that, the humble beverage enjoyed around the world, was born.
Since Shen nong’s discovery of tea around 2737 BC, tea has become one of the most popular drinks worldwide. The art of drinking tea, which is also known as ‘cha yi’ has become integral in our daily culture and formal ceremonies. There is a saying that “firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce, vinegar and tea are the seven necessities of life”.
“Firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce, vinegar and tea are the seven necessities of life”
Chinese Tea Culture – occasions we drink tea
Over 4000 years, tea has become a cornerstone of Chinese culture. Like coffee culture has developed in Australia – “let’s catch up for a coffee” – we have a tea for every occasion; to wake up, to relax, to give as a gift, to say sorry.
Tea is a huge part of my life; and I’ve had fantastic opportunities to experience true Chinese tea culture. Some of my favourite ceremonies and special tea drinking occasions include:
Have you ever been to a yum cha restaurant on a Sunday? You’ll have noticed how full it was with families; sons and daughters, perhaps with kids in tow, sharing a delicious meal with their parents and grandparents. We bond over food and tea, joyfully swapping news and delicious morsels. You will have also been offered a choice of tea; a Chinese meal is always served with tea. Possibly a refreshing jasmine green tea blend, a versatile Oolong tea that pairs with most food or a digestive Pu-Erh tea.
Wedding tea ceremonies
This forms a heart warming part of a traditional Chinese marriage ceremony. The bride and groom serve their parents tea and express their gratitude, saying “thanks for raising me” and “thank you for trusting me with your daughter”. Accepting their cup of tea symbolises a welcome into the family and the joining of two families. Gifts or money are then exchanged to bless the newlyweds.
Serving tea as a sign of respect
In traditional Chinese society, members of the younger generation show their respect to members of the older generation by offering a cup of tea. This is often completed during Chinese New Year. The younger generation would serve grandparents, aunties and other family members tea. Nowadays thing are changing; parents will serve children a cup of tea to show they care, or a boss might pour tea for their employees at a restaurant.
Catching up over a cup of tea is as common as catching up over a cup of coffee. Like Australian coffee shops, tea shops throughout Asia are filled with exuberant chatter and the delicate clink of porcelain cups touching their saucers. Tears, laughter and stories are shared over a cup of this warming beverage. Savoury and sweet nibbles are often passed around. The best tea is brought out for esteemed guests, but it’s also an affordable luxury not just saved for special occasions.
Varieties of Chinese tea – when do I drink them?
There are 5 main categories in the spectrum of Chinese tea; white tea, green tea, yellow tea, oolong tea and black tea. There’s a variety for any occasion; whether it’s a strong caffeinated morning kick-starter, an aromatic cuppa with a friend, a soothing jasmine tea or a digestive tea after a heavy meal. That said, I advise friends not to worry about following rules about what to drink when, and to let your tastebuds guide you to your preferred tea. Want a more caffeinated cuppa? Increase the infusion time. Do the opposite for a weaker brew, and always infuse your leaves with boiled fresh, cold water.
White tea – a low caffeine, all day drink
White tea is the least processed of all teas, and contains less caffeine than darker coloured teas. I drink it in the afternoon when I need a pick me up, but don’t want to stay awake all night! In summer, I add layers of stone fruit to an iced white tea base that pairs well with lunches.
Green or Royal Green Tea – a healthy drop
Green tea is well-researched for its health benefits; its naturally occurring antioxidants support healthy ageing, help prevent heart disease and assists healthy weight management. It’s my go to brew when I am feeling a bit run down.
Jasmine Tea – a fragrant green tea blend
I love it – drinking jasmine tea takes me straight back to summer, with its warmth and floral fragrance. Definitely an afternoon or evening tea when I need to relax; jasmine tea is relatively low in caffeine with shorter infusion times. Looking to spice up your weekly dinner? Jasmine tea infused rice smells divine!
Black Tea – a caffeinated morning brew
Black tea is famous worldwide – you’ll have tasted many black tea blends and it is easily available at supermarkets. If you’re not a coffee drinker, black tea is a suitable alternative to help you start your day with a caffeine kick. Enjoy it ‘long black’ style, or with a dash of milk.
Tie Kwan Yin (Tie Guan Yin) – Iron Goddess of Mercy tea
Tie Kwan Yin makes an opulent gift, whether for an important occasion or as a thank you gift. It’s hard to find authentic Tie Kwan Yin tea in Australia as the skill required to produce it is extraordinary. Once brewed, look for the hallmark red edges on the green leaves – a unique sign of a true, quality Tie Kwan Yin. It’s a classic Chinese tea, thick, silky with a slightly mineral taste, but really delicious. Make sure you relay the ancient Wei legend the upon gifting the tea.
Pu-Erh Tea – promotes weight loss
Lots of Australians ask about Pu-Erh’s weight loss benefits; it aids digestion and I love it after a heavy meal like yum cha. I also love Pu-Erh tea when I’ve overindulged, especially following a foodie holiday when I’m eating clean. But Pu-Erh tea is more complex than just that – it takes more than 10 years of careful fermentation to make Pu-Erh, so I make sure I savour the aromas and complexity of this tea.
Where to start with Chinese tea
Chinese tea is about bringing people together, reuniting friends and families over an indulgent meal and bottomless pot of tea. Please don’t feel overwhelmed by the customs, legends and tea varieties; I’d suggest picking a few that sound most appealing and choosing ones your tastebuds enjoy best.
Share Chinese tea with your family, friends or colleagues. A tea pot and strainer is ideal, but a large teabag filled with loose leaf tea will also give you a delicious brew with the convenience of a teabag.
If you’d like to know more about any of the tea varieties, how to brew or store your tea please get in contact. I’d also love to know what you think about Chinese tea, which blends you love best and how you began your foray into drinking Chinese tea.