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Chinese Tea

chinese character for tea

According to popular legend, tea was discovered by Chinese Emperor Shennong in 2737 BC, when a leaf from a Camilla sinensis tree fell into some water the emperor was boiling. Not everyone agrees on the origin, but no one disputes that tea is deeply woven into the history and culture of China. The beverage is considered one of the seven necessities of Chinese life, along with firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce and vinegar.

Some writers classify tea into four categories, green, white, black and oolong. Others add categories for red, scented and compressed teas. All of these come from varieties of the Camilla sinensis plant. Chinese flower tea, while popular, is not a true tea. Most Chinese tea is consumed in China and is not exported. Green tea is the most popular type of tea used in China.

Within these main categories of tea are vast varieties of individual beverages. Some researchers have counted more than 700. Others put the number at more than 1,000. Some of the variations are due to different strains of the Camilla plant. The popular Tie Guan Yin, for example, is traced back to a single plant discovered in Anxi, in the Fujian province. Other teas draw some of their characteristics from local growing conditions. The largest factor in the wide variations comes from differences in processing after the tea is harvested. White and green teas are cooked soon after picking to prevent oxidization, often called fermentation, caused by natural enzymes in the leaves. Oolong teas are partially oxidized. Black and red teas are fully oxidized. Other differences come from variations in the processing steps.

Green Tea

Green tea is dried only with heat and undergoes no fermentation process. It has the most medical value and is very low in caffeine.

green tea leaves green tea

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White Tea

White tea is similar to green tea except that it's roasted. It has the lowest caffeine content and is very light in colour and aroma.

white tea leaves white tea

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Black Tea

Black tea is fully fermented and is the everyday tea of the West and North-west. It is good for cleaning up the digestive channel as it is an emulsifier for fat and cholestrol.

black tea leaves black tea

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Oolong Tea (or Wulong Tea)

Oolong tea is half-fermented and is relatively thick in flavour. It is very popular in South-east China and Taiwan, as well as being widely used for King Fu Cha. Like black tea, Oolong is an emulsifier for fat and cholestrol.

oolong tea leaves oolong tea

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Red Tea

A type of tea known by Westerners as Black tea and made from the completely oxidized bud leaves of Camellia sinensis. This tea type is commonly known in some Asian cultures literally as red tea.

red tea leaves red tea

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Scented Tea (or Flower Tea)

Flower tea is sometimes called scented tea. It is popular in northern China. Ingredients like flower petals might be added to the tea.

flower tea leaves flower tea

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Compressed Tea

Compressed tea or tea bricks are blocks of whole or finely ground tea leaves that have been packed in molds and pressed into block form. This was the most commonly produced and used form of tea in ancient China prior to the Ming Dynasty. Although tea bricks are less commonly produced in modern times, many post-fermented teas, such as pu-erh, are still commonly found in bricks, discs, and other pressed forms. Tea bricks can be made into beverages or eaten as food, and were also used in the past as a form of currency.

compressed tea block compressed tea

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