There are seven necessities of life, according to the Chinese. Sauce, salt, rice, firewood, oil, vinegar… and tea.
Yes, tea is that important in China! It’s to be found at every single meal, where the Chinese drink it for health reasons as well as for their enjoyment of the refreshing taste. Tea is a big part of China’s culture and history.
While there are several types of Chinese tea, they all come from the same plant (or varieties of it), the Camellia Sinensis. The type of tea produced depends on how the leaves are treated and processed after they’re picked.
Tea was discovered in China, and for centuries it was only produced as green tea. Even today, when different preparation methods have broadened the tea industry to include several different varieties (such as black tea, and white tea), green tea remains the most popular due to its unique, delicate flavor and its many health benefits.
Chinese green tea was initially used solely for medicinal purposes in Ancient China, but since the Han dynasty, the leaves have been infused with water to make the beverage that we know today.
However, the medicinal qualities of green tea are still extremely important in the eyes of the Chinese, who continue to drink it as a means of flushing out toxins from the digestive system.
Being the birthplace of green tea, China treats the product with an almost reverent attitude. Unlike in Japan, where green tea is processed mainly by machine, China’s green tea producers do almost everything by hand.
As a result, there are thousands and thousands of varieties you might hear references to tea artists or tea artisans, because of the time that they spend developing their own individual types of green tea, and crafting the leaves into a unique product that is distinctly different from any other.
The green tea leaves are painstakingly shaped into pearls or spears, as well as a variety of other shapes, and because all of this is done by hand, manufacturers ensure that every drop of excess moisture is squeezed out of each leaf, thus releasing the enzymes that create the tea’s flavors.
There are many, many different kinds of Chinese green tea. Probably the most famous of all is Xi Hu Longjing, produced in the region of Zhejiang. The name means Dragon Well, and it is an incredibly popular variety, with distinctively flat leaves and a pleasant, palatable taste. One of the other most well-known green teas from China is Bi Luo Chun, or Green Snail Spring, which comes from Dong Ting in the Jiangsu region.
Be careful if you’re searching for Dragon Well or Green Snail Spring tea, because the popularity and worldwide fame and demand for these varieties has led to quite a high degree of falsification that is to say, when you check the label, you might find that a lot of the tea marketed under these names does not actually come from the regions of Longjing or Dong Ting, but is mass produced in Sichuan Province instead, and so is not really authentic.