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What is a Chinese Tea Cake?

Tea cakes are often misunderstood as those cakes that you consume as sides with your tea or any other beverage. However, tea cakes are compressed tea leaves given the firm shape of a cake with certain aromas and flavors.

These are quite popular, even more than loose tea leaves in some regions of china and japan. Let’s delve more into the details of what they are and how they’re made.

Understanding compressed tea cake:

Tea cakes are less common now than they were in the past. Prior to the Ming Dynasty, the ancient Chinese usually resorted to tea cakes for their teas. The most common type of tea cake available in modern times is Pu-erh which is still found in bricks, discs, and cake forms.

There are plenty of ways by which you can consume a tea cake, the most common of them all being in the form of liquid tea and beverages.

However, it can also be eaten directly as a delicacy or snack or a side dish. In the ancient days, tea cakes were even used as a form of currency.

The most common tea is Pu-erh which is usually sold in the form of tea cakes and rarely as loose powder. Tea cakes can be stored for quite a long while.

Depending on the size of the cake, it can last you quite long since you only need a small piece of it to convert it into an instant, delicious beverage.

How are tea cakes made?

Tea cakes can be made of ground-black teas, green teas, or post-fermented tea leaves among many others. The tea leaves are thoroughly dried and made totally devoid of any moisture.

These tea leaves are then powdered or even directly compressed. They can then be molded in multiple forms like round, bowl-shaped, mushroom-shaped, rectangular shape, or bricks. This also depends on whether the tea is intended to be consumed as a beverage or as food.

Why are tea cakes made?

Tea cakes originated in the olden days. The most common reason for developing tea cakes then was to aid in easy transport. Compressed tea cakes, be it in any form or shape, are more convenient and much easier to transport.

Compressed teas take up very little space as compared to loose tea powder and proved to be cost-effective as well. In addition to that, it is also convenient to store tea cakes than powdered teas.

Here’s the process through which tea cakes are prepared:

  • The tea leaves are first weighed depending on the size of the expected tea cake. Usually, tea cakes weigh around 375 grams.
  • Then these tea leaves are placed in a canister that is placed atop a steamer which helps moisten it for better compression.
  • Once the tea leaves are steamed, the canister is inverted which transfers its contents into a cotton bag.
  • The bag is then twisted and pressed which causes the tea leaves inside to take a round shape.
  • A round stone is used to manually shape the cake and give it in an even texture. Nowadays even hydraulic press is being used. However, stone pressed tea cakes are better preferred than hydraulic pressed.

The tea cake is now ready. These are then labeled accordingly and transported via suitable means.

Summing it up:

Tea cakes are pretty popular even today and are quite common in China and Japan. The flavor and texture vary from variety to variety but these are definitely worth giving a try!

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