The Chinese people have grown and drunk tea for hundreds of years but wasn’t introduced to Britain until the middle of the sixteen hundreds where it was first seen in the coffee houses of London where the wealthy were to be found and a pamphlet was issued explaining what it was all about. However, Chinese tea culture dictates that everyone drinks tea, rich or poor, whether as part of a ritual or just as a reviving beverage.
Chinese tea is classified in “colours” which are Red, Yellow, White, Dark, Oolong and Green resulting from the amount of oxidisation of the leaf and also from the process it undergoes once picked.
Red tea is the forerunner of Western black teas and has a rich flavour. However, although it is the most drunk tea in the world, it isn’t particularly popular in China.
Yellow tea is the most rare of Chinese teas and only three varieties remain. People are intrigued by its rarity and are therefore buying it more and more.
White tea is also extremely rare as it is made only from the buds and selected leaves of the plant. It undergoes very little processing thus retaining its health benefits.
Dark tea is often confused with black tea but it has little similarity. Much of it is exported and it has a strong aroma and flavour.
Oolong tea is very delicate and fragrant and is somewhat popular in China.
However, it is Green tea that is the most popular of the Chinese tea culture, in part because of its healthy properties, being rich in Vitamin C, isoflavones and antioxidants which help to cleans the blood stream of cell damaging atoms, thus improving the health of the cardio vascular system.
Although tea does have health benefits, the Chinese don’t obsess about health the way the Western world does these days. Chinese tea culture is such that tea is drunk because people like it as an adjunct to food and also to sociability and as such is part of the Chinese way of life.
The food style to which tea is considered the most important accompaniment is dim sum. Dim sum is similar to the Spanish tapas in that a selection of small dishes are chosen from a trolley, often different types of dumplings and small cakes.
No meal in China is complete without tea served in a traditional cup without handles. Chinese tea is considered flavoursome enough on its own and is never served with milk, sugar or lemon and is used to refresh the palette in between different choices of dim sum.