China has been producing and drinking tea for over 4000 years,
The writing on this little picture says that if you drink one cup of Chinese tea, you will feel relaxed and comfortable. After you drink your second cup, you will feel happy, and your brain will feel like it’s flying. And when you drink your third cup, all of your troubles and worries will melt away.
The Japanese would never admit it, but their tea culture and tea ceremonies are directly derived from China. Indeed they buy a vast amount of green tea from China every year.
Beijing, which is not in a tea producing region, has hundreds of shops selling tea, and that does not include the tea-shops within supermarkets. When you enter one of these shops, whether it be one of the well known chains, or an individual specialist shop, you are faced with a bewildering selection. And then, when you are out at a restaurant the whole etiquette of tea drinking arises, which is a minefield of potential gaffes – but I think that is something I will cover in a different blog post.
I am still trying to get my head round tea as a product. For a start, tea is divided into two broad categories: basic tea and processed tea.
Basic tea then subdivides into six types: Green tea, black tea
(which they confusingly call hongcha which means ‘red’ tea), blue tea, yellow tea, white tea and dark tea. Processed tea, as you might imagine, subdivides into fragrant tea such as Jasmine tea, pressed tea such as Pu’er tea, tea bags and instant tea. It is mind boggling.
All the above types of tea have numerous subdivisions and rankings – for example, when you consider green tea, you can have ‘steamed green tea’, ‘roasted fixed green tea’, ‘baked fixed green tea’ or ‘sun-withered fixed green tea’. Each of these varied production methods have their own characteristics. The most famous (and most expensive) of the green teas is Long Jing Tea – also called Dragon Well Tea -which comes from the land around Hangzhou. It is a roasted fixed green tea, and it subdivides into three geographical areas depending on the actual plantation the leaves come from, West Lake, Qiantang and Yuezhou. West Lake Long Jing is considered the best of these, and Shifeng Long Jing is the best of the West Lake Long Jing.
I hope you’re paying attention at the back, this is all useful information, no slacking…
In Europe, you could spend a lifetime studying wine, the region, the terroir, which bank of the river, the climatic conditions, which variety of grape – indeed wine experts and wine merchants have made fortunes doing just that. Tea in China is exactly the same.
So I am adopting the same principles when choosing tea here that I apply to wine drinking – nothing too rare or esoteric, nothing horrendously expensive, and when I find something I like, I stick to it!