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The Legend of Chinese Tea

Legend says that Shen Nong was the first person to discover tea. Shen Nong was born at a time when the human race no longer had enough food. He had a transparent abdomen, and one could clearly see all of his internal organs. When he grew up, he taught the ancient Chinese the practices of agriculture and farming. Although people were then able to feed themselves better, they often got sick or died because they ate things indiscriminately. To help save lives, Shen Nong decided to taste hundreds of herbs: he put the tasty herbs in his left-hand bag – these were for people to eat – and the ones that weren’t tasty he put in his right-hand bag to be used for medicine.

One day, he tried a small, fresh leaf. Because his abdomen was transparent, people could see the leaf cleaning his every organ; afterwards, his insides were refreshed and clean. He named this leaf ‘cha’, which means ‘check’ in English. He continued to taste different herbs, using ‘cha’ to detoxify himself whenever he ate something poisonous. However, he died after tasting ‘heartbreak grass’ because it was too toxic and there was no time to eat a tealeaf. Thus, he sacrificed himself to save humanity, and came to be called the ‘Emperor of the Five Grains’. Because of Shen Nong, tea was widely known as ‘medicine’ for a long time.

The Real History

In real history, the tea industry has developed gradually over time.

  • In the time of the Western and Eastern Zhou Dynasties (around 3000 B.C.), people began to plant tea trees and used tea as tribute or vegetables.
  • In Spring and Autumn, it was used as a medicine to treat
  • In the , tea came to be used as a
  • During the Western Han Dynasty (2000 B.C.), a commercial tea trade developed, with Chengdu the earliest distribution centre.
  • From the Eastern Han period (1500 B.C.), people started to make tea bricks, making the tea easier to carry.
  • From the Tang Dynasty (1200 B.C.), tea-drinking culture began to spread to be enjoyed by all social classes. Lu Yu, the author of ‘The Classic of Tea’ in this period, is still respected as the ‘Sage of Tea’ because of his contribution to Chinese tea culture. He was the first person to produce a monograph on the cultivation, making and drinking of
  • From the Song Dynasty (1000 B.C.), with the improvement of tea-making technologies and more attention being paid to the source or quality of water, tea contests became popular in China. Whipped powdered tea was very fashionable during this time; however, the fashion had disappeared completely by the end of the Yuan
  • During the Yuan Dynasty (700 B.C.), loose tea began to appear, which was very popular among the lower classes in The tea brick still dominated the upper-class market; nevertheless, more and more people were becoming accustomed to drinking tea made from tea leaves steeped in boiling water.
  • During the Ming Dynasty (600 B.C.), tea-making technology was developed to make yellow, black and flower tea.
  • In the Qing Dynasty (300 B.C.), China became the only country exporting tea. Chinese tea became well known all over the world.

Types of Chinese tea

If you ever have the chance to go to a Chinese tea market, you will find so many different teas for you to taste. You may get confused about how best to work your way through them all to discover the ones you really like. In China, tea is categorised totally differently to Western tea culture. For example, in the West, teas are often described according to the colour of the leaves; however, in China, the category name refers to the colour of the brew. So, black tea in Chinese culture is called ‘Hong Cha’, meaning ‘red tea’. Confusingly, the term ‘black tea’ is also used to describe tea served without milk in some Western cultures.

The types of Chinese tea are:

To know more about the differences among these teas, please read this article we wrote.


Frequently asked questions about Chinese tea


Frequently asked questions about Chinese tea

How is traditional Chinese tea different from other teas?

Traditional Chinese tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant and processed using traditional Chinese methods. It is drunk at a particularly hot temperature – typically between 60-100ºC – which helps to enthuse the leaves’ rich flavours without any additional additives. In China, the beverage is drunk with regular meals throughout the day, usually as a substitute for water.

Are there any health benefits to drinking Chinese tea?

Yes! There are several health benefits to drinking traditional Chinese tea.

Inflammation fighting – Chinese tea has many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which can help to reduce chronic diseases such as heart disease, lupus and inflammatory bowel disease.

Help you lose weight – Tea contains a flavonoid called catechins which helps to break down fat and boost the metabolism. So it is no surprise that a recent study found that tea drinkers have a lower body mass index (BMI) compared to non-tea drinkers.

Provide fuel for workouts – Traditional green tea contains antioxidants which help to burn body fat more efficiently and provide fuel for exercise.

Reduce the risk of cancer – Antioxidants have also proven to be effective at reducing the risk of certain cancers such as breast, ovarian, colon and prostate cancer.

Reduce the number of free-radicals – Antioxidants also help to combat the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals rob healthy cells of electrons, which weakens the immune system and contributes to chronic diseases such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

Prevents bone loss – Chinese tea provides the vital nutrients bones need to maintain their strength and density.

Helps to regulate blood sugar levels – Compounds found in green tea help to metabolize blood sugar which can help people with Type 2 Diabetes manage the disease.

Boosts brain power – Chinese tea is thought to reduce the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Promotes healthy teeth and gums – Green tea is a natural source of fluoride which helps to fight plaque and promote healthy gums. This is aided by the fact that most people drink green tea unsweetened.

How many types of traditional Chinese tea are there?

Visit a traditional Chinese tea house and you’ll be amazed how many varieties and flavours are available. This can be overwhelming for new tea drinkers but many varieties are either different blends of existing varieties or based on leaves from other regions. Traditional Chinese tea, which is made from the Camellia Sinensis plant, is only available in six base varieties.

Each variety is the result of specific processing which gives the brew a unique colour and flavour. The six types are green tea, yellow tea, black tea, white tea, Oolong tea and dark tea. Don’t be confused by the colours though. In the west, teas are named after the colours of their leaves, but in China tea is named after the colour of the brew, which is often different from the leaves.

In the west, we also refer to black and white tea depending on whether we have added milk to the brew. But in China, they don’t add milk to tea. Chinese white tea refers to the colour of the brew, which is clear. Chinese black tea is black, as its name would suggest. In both cases the leaves are brown. Confused? You will soon get the hang of it.

Should you drink Chinese tea every day?

Yes! Many people in China drink tea several times a day. The health benefits of drinking tea are proven and when combined with regular exercise it can help to reduce body fat and maintain a healthy body. Drinking tea regularly can also boost your immune system and lower cholesterol levels.

Does Chinese tea contain caffeine?

Yes! Natural teas contain caffeine. The amount of caffeine present will depend on the type of tea and how it has been processed. White tea contains the least caffeine while black tea contains the most. The typical caffeine content of an eight-ounce serving of traditional Chinese tea is between 35 – 55 milligrams.

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