The History Of Chinese Tea

The History of Chinese Tea, Shennong, Daba Mountain

There are 20 tea growing/producing areas in mainland China. China is the first country in the world to cultivate, produce and drink tea.

Here is a quick look at of some of these regions, what they are best known for and the famous teas they make.

In the beginning...

Shaanxi - the cradle of civilization

The Bashu / Daba Mountain area is regarded as the cradle of Chinese tea and tea culture. In the province of Shaanxi China, teas origins go back 5000's years to approximately 2737 B.C. when in nearby Shennongjia, the Emperor Shen Nong 神农, a talented ruler and scientist was honored with the discovery of tea, discovering it by accident, when some tea leaves accidentally fell into his cup of hot water.

Shennong is considered the ancient Father of Chinese Medicine and Agriculture. 

Shennong was born on Daba Mountain in nearby Shennongjia, just over the Hubei border, only 150 miles away from our Qinba mountain tea growing area. 

It was then, 5000 years ago that these selenium-rich teas were named " Medicinal teas" and have been called that ever since.

A Chinese tea plantation - 1850

Shaanxi was once one of the eight tea production areas. All being green tea, Shaanxi tea is also known as “Shaan Qing” (Shaanxi green tea). Since “The Emperor of Qin Dynasty ruled Bashu area, that the people began drinking Tea”. Chinese tea sprread from Bashu area by Chang'an (now Xi'an in China) throughout the nation, and spread to all over around world. 

Fucha tea, one of the most famous dark teas in all of China also originated here, and it was shipped on the Silk Road in ancient China. 

The Qinba mountain area in Shaanxi Province is a renowned place for a high quality teas, yet remains virtually unknown outside of China and even there - only to those in the know. The same few families have purchased nearly all of the top production for decades and the tea is usually gifted.

In 2016, 2,150-year-old tea leaves were found buried with Chinese emperor Emperor Jing of Han in Shaanxi, shown below. Emperor Jin went by the name Liu Qi.

Worlds oldest tea found near Daba mountain in Shaanxi, China

 

Keep in mind, that the Southwest Silk Road also known as as the Ancient Tea Horse Caravan Road, did not run through through Yunnan until 450 later, in the seventh century. Xi'an, Shaanxi was the capital of China for 13 dynasties, more than 1,100 years, from 221 BC to 904 AD

Yunnan Province

Yunnan is considered the birthplace of tea. This is debatable, mainly because tea was being made in other parts of China many years prior. Ethnic Pu people in Yunnan began to grow tea and served it as tribute to the emperors as early as in the Chinese Shang and Zhou Dynasties. Today, Yunnan makes over 100 different types of tea. Yunnan's tea export began over 200 year ago, in 1763 during the Qing Dynasty. Yunnan played the most important role for tea worldwide, exporting to places all over the globe.

Ancient trees in Yunnan

Famous tea: Pu’er tea Yunnan Pu'er 云南普

Xishuangbanna is one of the Yunnan endpoints of the Ancient Tea Horse Road and is still a major tea-growing area. From there, pressed tea was carried by horseback to Tibet, India, and Nepal. The tropical forested hills of Xishuangbanna are where the Dai people produce some of the best Pu’er tea, which is pressed into a variety of wheels, bricks, etc.

Pu’er, the next major stop after Xishuangbanna, was where tea was traded and it gave its name to this famous type of dark pressed tea, although most prefectures in Yunnan, including Xishuangbanna, produce Pu’er tea. Pu’er tea is often an acquired taste. It should be very different to the generally delicate flavors of Chinese tea.

It has a rustic woody taste, and is soothing.

98% of tea produced in Yunnan today is Puerh .

Sichuan

When Lu Yu (陆羽)  wrote the first book ever on tea, the Book of Tea (茶经), 50 teas were mentioned. Of those fifty, 18 come from Sichuan.

Famous Tea: Mengding Ganlu (蒙顶甘露):

“Mengding Sweet Dew” from Mengding Mountain in Ya’an City.

Fujian

  • Northern Fujian

Human can be traced back living in Mount Wuyi for 4,000 years. The Wuyi Mountains (Chinese: 武夷山​ ​are a mountain range located in the ​Nanping ​prefecture in northern Fujian province near the ​Jiangxi ​border​. Tea has been made and consumed here for approximately 1,500 years.

​Famous teas from the northern part of Fujian include:

Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe), Jin Jun Mei, L​apsang ​S​ouchong and other black tea production as well as green and  white tea Shou Mei, Silver Needle and White Peony

  • Anxi

Tie Guanyin, Iron Goddess

Iron Goddess tea (Anxi 安溪铁观音) probably holds the bronze medal position among China's teas. It is an oolong (Wulong) tea with a fresh and mellow taste — a favorite for summer drinking.

Anxi, where Iron Goddess is grown, is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Quanzhou City, in Quanzhou Prefecture. Quanzhou is a large city (more than 6 million inhabitants) on the Fujian coast. Nearby Xiamen is the most famous tourist city in Fujian.

Zhejiang

Dragon Well

Many tea lovers agree that China's most famous tea is West Lake Dragon Well Tea (Xi Hu Longjing, 西湖龙井 grown on the hills around West Lake, near Hangzhou City.

Tea has been enjoyed in style in Hangzhou for well over 1,000 years. 

 Zhejiang today accounts for almost 75% of total tea production in China.

Hunan

In the 19th and early 20th century, Hunan produced almost half of all tea made in Chinese. Today

Junshan Yinzhen From Junshan Island of the Hunan Province in China. Also one of the Ten Chinese Famous Teas. Although the same kind of tea trees are also planted around Dongting Lake, where Junshan Island is located, those teas should not be called Junshan Yinzhen

Anhui

Anhui province is divided into two parts - the north and the south. Tea growing in the north dates back to the Tang dynasty (618 AD-907 AD).

Keemun - Famous black tea (Chinese call black tea "red")  named after Qimen county, in Anhui province

Lu'An Melon Seed also known as Lu'an Leaf, is a green tea from Lu'an City, Anhui Province, China. This is a famous green tea and one of China Top 10 Famous Teas.

Huangshan Mao Feng is grown near Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain), which is home to many famous varieties of Green Tea. Huangshan Mao Feng Tea's English translation is "Yellow Mountain Fur Peak" due to the small white hairs which cover the leaves and the shape of the processed leaves.

Tai Ping Hou Kui 太平猴魁  "the peaceful monkey leader" The best Tai Ping Hou Kui is grown in the villages of Houkeng, Hougang and Yanjiachun. Teas produced in the surrounding areas are called by the same name, but are inferior

Jiangsu

 Biluochun (Chinese: 碧螺春; is a famous green tea originally grown in the Dongting mountains near Lake Tai, Jiangsu, China. Pi Lo Chun, as it if often named, it is renowned for fruity taste, floral aroma, showy white hairs.

Henan

The tea history in Henan dates back to 2300 years ago. Bordered by by the provinces of Hubei and Anhui, Henan has similar weather and growing conditions as them but tea now as economically important there as it is in Shaanxi or Hunan but still very good quality tea is made here.

Xinyang Maojian Can also be called “Yu Maofeng” and is one of China's Top 10 Famous Teas (十大名茶) Mao Jian tea's leaves are known as "hairy tips”, because the leaves' slightly dark-green with both ends rolled into a pointy shape.

Guangdong

Dan Cong Phoenix mountains, or feng huang shan(凤凰山), are the origin of feng huang dancong oolongs, a unique style of single-trunk oolongs.

 

Types of Teas of China

The main classes of Chinese tea discussed below are green tea, yellow tea, white tea, oolong tea, black tea, dark tea or fermented tea and Pu'er tea.

Green Tea
Green tea remains the oldest and most popular type of tea; it has been enjoyed in China for thousand's years. Green tea is made from the new shoots of the tea plant, and the tea leaves are dried and processed according to the type of tea desired, usually steamed or wok dried

Processing  techniques are:

  1.  Water removing
  2.  Rolling
  3.  Drying

Yellow Tea is made by allowing damp tea leaves to dry naturally. It has a distinctive aroma, similar to red tea, but its flavor is closer to green and white teas. Yellow tea is also used to describe the high-quality tea that was served to the emperors, as yellow was the traditional imperial color.

Junshan Yinzhen is produced in China's Hunan Province and is the country's most popular yellow tea.

White Tea
White tea is unfermented, uncured green tea that has been quickly dried. It is indigenous to Fujan Province, and is lighter in color than other types of tea with a subtle, delicate flavor.

White tea got its name from the tradition of poor Chinese people offering plain boiled water to guests, if they had no tea, and calling it "white tea".

Oolong Tea
Oolong tea, also known as Wulong tea, is unfermented tea with unique characteristics. Oolong tea boasts the best flavors and aromatic qualities of both green and black tea. Sometimes called "green leaves with a black edge", oolong tea is thought to aid in fat decomposition and is widely regarded as a weight loss aid and a beauty enhancer.

Black Tea.
Black tea is the second largest category of Chinese tea. It is made from the new shoots of tea leaves, which are wilted, rolled, fermented, and dried. The resulting infusion yields a lovely red color and a subtle aromatic fragrance. Keemun is the most popular brand of black tea.

Pu-erh

Pu'er tea is a dark tea that was invented by accident and deserves a category on its own because of its distinguishing features.

Pu'er tea, originating from Yunnan Province, has an ancient history over of 2,000 years. According to Yunnan government's definition, Puer tea must be tea that is made from a large-leaf variety of a plant growing in a defined area, which is then processed into compressed tea or brick tea with a specified technology.

Pu'er tea was listed as a geographical indication product' by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine on August 5, 2008. It stipulates that only tea produced in Yunnan's 639 towns in 11 prefectures and cities, including Pu'er and Dali, can be called Pu'er tea.

There are two distinct types of Pu'er tea:

Sheng Pu'er (the raw or green Pu'er)

Shu Pu'er (the ripened or black Pu'er).

20 Tea Regions of China