Tea is serious business for most Chinese, it is part of our culture, lifestyle and history. Just looking at the current market situation of tea in China, it is currently a $90 billion USD industry. For professional or formal carers who are working with residents or clients who are Chinese, it is good to understand the importance and relevance of Chinese tea to provide personalised care. I used to care for a Chinese lady and all we had in the facility was English tea, they had the usual run-of-the-mill Dilmah English Ceylon black tea, I’m possibly getting this wrong too, I only drink Earl Grey. Anyway, whenever she gets a cup of English tea from the staff, she’ll have a giggle, sip it and say “yucks”, and push it away. Thankfully her family brings here a stash of green tea that I can prepare for her that she keeps in her room.
Understanding how and when tea has come about in Chinese history is a good place to start, to appreciate the longevity of the tea culture, tradition and art that has flourished in among the Chinese since its beginnings in 3rd century A.D. Tea continued to gain popularity and by 618-907 A.D., tea had become a national phenomenon complete with ceremonies, traditions, and philosophies, tea plants were cultivated in 42 prefectures and drinking tea had become a daily norm for everyone among the different social classes (Wang, 2000). With tea filtering down for approximately 2000 years, you can see why it means so much to most of the Chinese population. Even for immigrants to western countries, studies have found that some cultural dietary preferences are just impossible to let go, and tea is but one of the many.
I can’t reiterate that for many Chinese, tea is a way of life, a philosophy, an art and a part of their identity. In art, you may see it reflected in poetry, literature, calligraphy and even in religion. Tea represents for some the connection between human and nature, the appreciation of the simplicity of the gifts of the earth that can soothe, clear and strengthen the human spirit. In that aspect, you may observe that many Chinese may have a deeper emphasis on the purity or the quality of the tea, and to consume it in its simplest and natural form, with no sugar, milk or spice. Unless you are drinking a flower tea, which is a whole different article in itself. Here tea is written in reference to the purest form, of harvested dried leaves.
In a nutshell, there are 6 main groups of Chinese tea.
Green Tea (绿茶) Pronounced: Lǜchá
This is the most common of all the teas and dominants 80% of the global Asian tea market. Green tea when brewed, produces a light to dark green hue.
When brewing green tea, increasing the temperature of the water will increase the bitterness of the green leave. Bitterness is produced by Catechins found in green tea and it’s reaction to the temperature of the water. To obtain a fresh, leafy and sweet cup of green, tea should be brewed at 75 to 80 Celsius or 167 to 176 Fahrenheit.
Black Tea (红茶) Pronounced: Hóngchá
Black tea is technically known as red tea in Chinese. Hong (红) stands for red and Cha (茶) stands for tea. A popular hong cha is known as Gong Fu (工夫) Cha or Gong Fu Hong Cha. Click here for more info on black teas.
Oolong Tea (烏龍) Pronounced: wūlóng
Oolong tea is strangely gaining popularity in the west, and it is currently used in everything from fusion dishes to weight loss tips. Thought Oolong is known commonly in the west to mean “black dragon”, which sounds a lot cooler then the dark dragon, “Wu” (烏) actually means dark, not black, and “Long” (龍) means dragon.
A common Oolong tea is the Tie Guan Yin (铁观音), literally translated it means “Iron Goodness of Mercy”. This tea is popular with Chinese from Southern China, Taiwan and parts of Southeast Asia.
Currently, Twinnings do stock Oolong in teabags, or for a more affordable range, you might be able to find this at the local Chinese grocer. I found this (see image below) for $5 AUD and would last me 6 months if I drank a cup daily, however it is only availably in loose leaves.
White Tea (白 毫 銀 針) Pronounced: Baihao Yinzhen
White tea or Bai Hao Yin Zhen, loosely translated as white fine silver needles, some call it white hair silver needles. Very light refreshing tea that usually consist of peony and pekoe. This tea may be harder to find and may be more costly than the other teas, depending on your geographical location.
Yellow tea (黃茶) Pronounced: huángchá
Yellow tea as the name states, has a beautiful imperial golden hue, some people may be confused with yellow tea and it may fall into a different category at the shops. Some places, it may be grouped up with the white teas. This is due to the fact that yellow tea when brewed, has the aroma of red tea and the flavour that taste like a mild green tea with a hint of white tea. A popular yellow tea is the Junshan Yinzhen (君山银针).
Pu-er tea (普洱茶)Prounced:P-Erh
– image from blisstree.com
Pu-er is an exclusive tea and can be rare and expensive, as it is tightl regulated for quality. Like champagne, the aged tea leaves only comes from one province in China and that is Yunnan, from wild trees that range from a few hundred years old to a thousand years old. Given that Black tea is, in fact, “red tea” according to the Chinese, Pu-Er is the one true “Black Tea”.
To learn more about Chinese tea, here are 2 websites that I have found useful.
Aitken, A 2008, ‘Third culture kids and mad migrant mothers, or how to outgrow Amy Tan’, Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 445-454.
Hung, K, Xiao, H, & Yang, X 2013, ‘Why immigrants travel to their home places: Social capital and acculturation perspective’, Tourism Management, vol. 36, pp. 304-313.
Kim, S 2015, ‘Unfolding Chinese American History’, Public Historian, vol. 37, no. 2, p. 130.
Ni, W 2011, ‘A Comparison of Chinese and British Tea Culture’, Asian Culture and History, no. 2.
Serafica, R 2014, ‘Dietary Acculturation in Asian Americans’, Journal of Cultural Diversity, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 145-151.
Wang, L 2000, Chinese Tea Culture, n.p.: Beijing : Foreign Languages Press, 2000.