The Origin Stories of Chinese Tea

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The Origin Stories of Chinese Tea

China is home to a variety of rather interesting types of teas that mostly differ to what we're accustomed to here in Australia. While the types of tea the Chinese tend to drink may seem limited, the variation within those types can be extremely varied with great importance being placed on the mountain/field of origin, along with the age in some types of teas too.

The price range can be anywhere from $5 up to the $1000's for....... just one gram. Certain oolong and pu'er teas are also over 100 years old and treated as prized collectibles in a very similar fashion to wine is treated here!

The particular origins of the teas we stock here at Tea Life within the Scent of Asia tea collection come from our reputable farms in both the Yunnan and Fujian provice within China. (see images below!)

china tea fields

tea leaves field in china

tea in the china mountains

Before we delve into the different origins of each particular type of tea, let's start with the almost mythical story of the first tea ever - with its birthplace being, you guessed it, China.

Keep in mind this is a legend, as are many stories from 5000 years ago.
In 2732 BC, the Emperor Shen Nung had a pot of water boiling that happened to have some leaves from a wild tree land inside. The result was perhaps the first crude cup of tea, although his apparent description of feeling warm, intrigued and having his whole body feel invigorated makes it sound like the best tea ever.

chinese character tea meaning and historyAnd so henceforth, this brew was named 'cha' and is the Chinese character seen on the left (probably above if you're on mobile). Chinese characters will sometimes be made up of multiple meanings. With the Chinese character for tea, it's quite interesting and have split the character up into three colours to help understand the separate meanings which come together as one to make up the word of 'tea'.

Within the center in red we have the character for 'ren' 人 which means Human.
Humanity is at the center of this word and is brought together as one by tea and nature.

The top character in green is a more simple version of 草, which means grass.
The bottom in blue 木 means tree.

So within the Chinese character for tea, we have a rather interesting and harmonious depiction of tea bringing humanity together as one with nature. That's what we like to hear!

Lets get into the different types of tea within China...

Pu'er Tea

There are two types of Pu'er teas, being "raw" Sheng Cha and the "ripe" Shu Chá, with their origins being traced back to the 'Pu tea' of the Han Dynasty dated at 25-220 CE and located in the Yunnan province. Why the Yunnan province?
This area was known to have large and spaced apart leaves on tough stems. This 'large leaf' quality still prized today.

compressed pu'er tea cake

Transportation and exportation also has a long history in China, and tea is no exception. With the long journeys these teas needed to make, various preservation methods and ways to compress (as seen in the image above) began to give birth. It was found that Pu Tea became better with age, so warehousing and aging became commonplace.

With the diets of various regions around and within China at these times, this tea helped to aid in digestion and also fill in a few nutrient gaps that people's diets were often missing at the time.

Around 1879 the French and British, known for their love of tea - were quite interested in what the Chinese had on offer and set up their own trade routes, thus exponentially increasing the export of Pu'er and other types of tea throughout the rest of the world. The old trade routes (horse roads) used for thousands of years have become a national heritage

 

Oolong Tea

This tea originated around Tang Dynasty 618 - 907 CE within the Beiyun region of the awesomely named Phoenix Mountain of the Fujian province and was at first named 'Beiyun tea'.

Over time, various peoples of position such as monks and scholars started to discover this tea as they visited and took note of the remarkable flavour this tea had on offer which was vastly different to anything they had experienced before. At this time, most drank unfermented green tea.

oolong tea fermented

Upon learning of this new tea, the Emperor at the time just had to try it.
Gifted to him, was the also awesomely named 'Dragon Phoenix Compressed Tea' which had been created in a mold and bore the designs of a Phoenix and Dragon. With the Emperors approval of this tea, it quickly spread and became famous throughout China.

Bear in mind that this tea was still called 'Beiyun' tea at this time. Only as recently as 1725 within the Fujian region, tea producers decided to adapt traditional methods of the Beiyun tea creation process and combine this with newer technology and thus, Oolong tea was born.

Today there are countless regions within China and Taiwan that produce their own distinct flavour of Oolong tea.

Below is an example of our Oolong tea unraveling! This is a great example of the before-mentioned compression and storage techniques adopted for transportation.

oolong tea unraveling

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  • Toby Gospodarczyk

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