CHINESE TEA AND TEA IN CHINA

TEA IN CHINA

rightTea is the most popular drink in China. Chinese love to drink tea and drink tremendous amounts of it. Prices range from few yuan per kilo for common teas to 6,000 yuan ($730) per kilo for the rarest varieties. Tea has traditionally been served as alternative to water in China. It is safer that tap water or river water because at least the water was boiled.

Many people drink tea in a bowl without a handle. Throughout China you will see people on the go with thermoses and water bottles with leafy, unstrained tea, which is consumed all day long. Hot tea is usually served plain, or with sugar or milk.

Tea drinking customs include: 1) refill your friends cups; 2) turn the pot lid upside down to request more tea: and 3) say thank you to the waiter by tapping four times on the table. Tea ceremonies somewhat like those done in Japan are performed in the Anhui province of China.

Tea houses have traditionally been places where people met and socialized, serving as neighborhood gathering places the same way pubs do in Britain. In the Cultural Revolution tea houses were closed because they were considered places where rightist and counter-revolutionary thoughts were hatched and spread. Many tea house have traditionally served green tea.

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Chengdu Teahouse
In 2009, tea is grown on 1.86 million hectares in China, the largest amount of any country in the world. China also produced the most tea that year, harvesting 1.35 million tons. More than 80 million people work in the tea industry as farmers, workers or sales people. [Source: Ben Yue, China Daily, March 28, 2011]

Chinese government is concerned that the tea industry was too diffuse. China has 70,000 tea companies but not a single internationally strong brand. There is a widely known saying: "Seventy-thousand Chinese tea companies are equal to one Lipton in terms of turnover." According to guidelines from the Ministry of Agriculture issued in 2009, China plans to focus tea production into four main areas and improve tea quality by employing better growing methods by 2015. [Ibid]

Good Websites and Sources: Soft Drinks in China euromonitor.com ; Tea Book: All the Tea in China by Kit Chow and Ione Kramer; Wikipedia article on History of Tea in China Wikipedia ; Rare Teas holymtn.com ; Tea Culture index-china-food.com ; Asia Recipe asiarecipe.com ; China Vista chinavista.com ; tea Preparation asiarecipe.com ; Sichuan Tea House China Vista ; Gonfu tea China Vista ; Links in this Website: ALCOHOLIC DRINKS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WINE AND BEER Factsanddetails.com/China ; EATING AND DRINKING CUSTOMS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China

Tea

right Tea is the most popular drink in the world after water. A lot more people drink it than coffee, especially in China, India, Japan, Britain, Russia, Turkey and other countries in Asia, eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Tea is a drink made with the leaves of Camelia sinensis, a plant indigenous to China. The word "tea" comes from the Xiamen area of China. Tea is one of the first known stimulants. The legendary Chinese emperor Shen Nung reportedly wrote in his medical diary in 2737 B.C. that tea not only "quenches thirst" but also "lessens the desire to sleep." According to legend Shen-Nung discovered the drink when some tea leaves from a bush accidently fell into some water he was boiling to stay healthy. He liked the taste and tea was born.

According to another legend tea was created by an Indian monk with bushy eyebrows named Bodhidharma, who mediated for nine years by staring at the wall of a cave. To battle his occasional bouts of drowsiness, he came up with a novel idea---cutting off his eyelids so his eyes wouldn't close. On the place where he placed his severed eyelids, the first tea bushes appeared.

Tea contains caffeine but significantly less than coffee. A typical cup of tea-bag-brewed tea contains 40 millimeters of caffeine, compared to 100 millimeters for a typical cup of brewed coffee. The caffeine content of tea can range from 20 to 90 milligrams per cup depending on the blend of tea leaves, method of preparation and length of brewing time. Contrary to myth, green tea contains about the same amount of caffeine as black teas.

Chinese tea often has a lot of stuff floating in it. Jasmine tea one Washington Post reporter commented “has so much foliage on the bottom that it resembles a terrarium.”

See Agriculture, Economics

Websites: Stash Tea: www.stashtea.com ; Tea Council Tea Trail: www.teatrail.co.uk : Tea Council of the USA. www.tea.com

History of Tea

left Originating from Southeast Asia and the Yunnan province of China, tea was mentioned in a Chinese dictionary around A.D. 350. Tea processing is believed to date to around A.D. 500. According to a Chinese myth, tea was discovered about 5,000 years ago by Shennong, a legendary emperor of China who was sipping a bowl of hot water when a sudden gust of wind blew some tea tree twigs into the water.

Tea was brought to imperial China from Southeast Asia about A.D. 900. It became popular during Tang dynasty, when it was associated with Buddhism (monks reportedly used it to stay awake while meditating). During this period of time, tea was not prepared like it is today. The leaves were first steamed and compressed and then dried and pounded in a mortar. China still produces more varieties of tea than any other nation.

The consumption of tea spread from China to Japan and India between around A.D. 1000 or 1100, perhaps by Buddhist monks. It was originally brought over as a medicine not drink. It did not become popular in Japan with the aristocracy until the 17th century and did not really catch on with ordinary people until the 18th century.

Teapots arrived in the Ming dynasty of the 15th and 16th centuries. Verity Wilson, an expert on Chinese culture, told the BBC: "Teapots have very much become an item associated with China. But pre-Ming dynasty, there were no teapots in China. So I think all those things which we take to be quintessentially Chinese have actually been absorbed by the Chinese from other cultures." [Source: Carrie Gracie BBC News, October 9, 2012 ***]

right In 1609 tea reached Europe via Amsterdam. The first tea to arrive in Britain came from China in 1652. The tea carried on ships in the Boston Tea Party came from China. The British established the tea industries in India and Sri Lanka.

Iced tea was invented in 1904 by an Englishman in St. Louis. He tried to introduce hot tea to the United States and had little success. Out of desperation he poured it over ice. The drink was an immediate success. The same year the same man came up with he novel of idea of selling tea in bags so that it could be dropped in the water.

Tea Culture in China

China is the homeland of tea, and it is a general practice for Han people to drink tea. Serving guests a cup of tea is a traditional courtesy among Han people. Tea has a long history in China. As early as in the Jin Dynasty, people carried pots and sold tea in the street. In the Northern and Southern Dynasties, small tea houses started to be set up. In the Song Dynasty, tea houses were common sights on streets and lanes. The custom of drinking tea became especially strong in the Qing Dynasty. In the tea houses, people ate pastries and sweets as well as drank tea. In this atmosphere the folk arts of ballad singing, storytelling and cross-talk. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science Museums of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

Some tea houses have been set up at beautiful places for people to relax and view beautiful scenery while savoring tea. Some people discuss business and solve their disputes in tea house. In this way tea house serve political and economic functions as well as cultural ones. Many emperors, ministers and writers have written down beautiful lines of poetry while in tea houses. There are tea houses all over China. They often feature different styles of tea drinking, of which the most famous are the covered bowl tea of Chengdu in Sichuan Province and the congou of Chaozhou in Guangdong Province. ~

Kinds of Tea

China has at least eight major types of tea. They include hundreds of well-known varieties of green tea, oolong, black and puer. There are different preparation methods. Green tea is prepared using fresh tea leaves that are first stir-fried; black tea is made from fermented fresh leaves; oolong tea is both fried and fermented in a process that makes the leaves green in the middle and red at the edges.

True teas (excluding so called "teas" from other plants) are divided into four categories according to methods of processing: 1) unfermented; 2) slightly fermented; 3) semi-fermented; and 4) fermented. The reference to fermentation is misleading because tea undergoes oxidation not fermentation.

There are thousands of different kinds of tea. Different soils, different climates, different altitude, different drying methods can all affect the flavor and look of a tea. Many companies blend teas and produce teas that favorable to people in certain regions.

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different grade fermentation

Teas are also categorized by size, quality and the elevation they are grown. Tea particle sizes range from “dust,” to fannings and broken grades to “leaf” tea. Quality is described with words like flowery and pekoe (Orange Pekoe is a quality name that has nothing to do with the color of the tea or oranges).

Low-grown teas (those grown under 600 meters) are full bodied but lacking in flavor. High-grown teas (those grown above 1,200 600 meters) grow more slowly and are known their subtle flavor. Mid-grown teas are between the two. Most commercials teas are blends with some high-grown leaves for flavor and low-grown leaves for body.

There are at least 800 different types of Chinese tea. Chinese rank their teas and recognize their places of origin. They classify tea according to six colors: green tea, blue tea, red tea, white tea, yellow tea and dark green tea. The main varieties known in the West are green tea, black tea (the same as Chinese red tea) and oolong tea.

Sandao (Three-taste) Tea is popular in Yunnan. The custom of drinking it dates back Nanzhao kingdom of in Yunnan in the 8th-10th century. This custom was later introduced to common folks. Now Sandao Tea is popular with the Bai people in Dali, who use it to entertain guests and friends. Sandao Tea first tastes bitter, then sweet and finally has a pleasant aftertaste.

Bubble milk tea is a strong, milky iced tea with chewy tapioca balls. It is popular with the shopping mall crowd.

Green Tea and Black Tea

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Bamboo Green Tea
Green teas are the least processed of all teas. They are steamed, rolled and dried (in Japan) or pan fried (in China) soon after picking to kill the enzymes and prevent oxidation before drying. Green tea has a slightly bitter, grassy flavor. The fragrance at first is grassy but later becomes sweet. The taste has been described as "fresh, energetic and sweet."

Green teas are popular in Japan, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. They have become more popular in the West since the discovery of possible health benefits associated with them. The most prized green tea---longjin---is produced mainly in the Hangzhou area of east China.

When making green tea, the water should ideally be cooled to 158̊F to 176̊F (boiling is 212̊F) and made in a broad-bottomed pot preferably made of stoneware that allows heat to escape and exposes the maximum amount of tea-leaf surface to the water. Longjin and other green teas are made in lidded white cup called a chung from which the tea is poured into smaller cups.

Black teas (red teas) are highly processed and oxidized. After they are picked the leaves are exposed to air, then crushed and stored in temperature- and moisture-controlled rooms, where they oxidize ("ferment"), which turns the leaves deep brown and intensifies their flavor. Grown primarily in India and Sri Lanka, these are the teas most familiar to Westerners and are the mostly widely consumed in Europe, North America, Russia and the Middle East Black teas are made in a slightly larger pot with water that is near boilng temperature.

Other Kinds of Teas

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Tieguanyin
Dark green or black oolong teas are 30 to 70 percent oxidized. Most common in China, they are exposed to heat and light and crushed for less time than black tea. Their level of processing is about half way between green and black tea. They have a strong and sometime flowery fragrance and a fruity, mellow flavor. Common mainland oolong teas include Tikuanyin, Shuxian and Dahongpao. Taiwan oolong tends to be milder than mainland teas with an emphasis on fragrance over flavor.

Oolong teas are infused with nearly boiling water in very small round-bottomed pots that are almost filled to the top with leaves that expand in the water. A tea connoisseur told the New York Times, "Oolong is bitter and sweet, with good memories, sometimes quite uncomfortable. But only when you have seen the vicissitudes of life will you understand the meaning of it."

Relatively uncommon white teas are slightly oxidized and have a light, flowery fragrance. The leaves of white teas are light to medium brown and sometimes are covered by furry silvery hairs. Silver needles, white peony and shoumei are common white teas. White teas should be infused in water around 170̊F.

Scented teas, such as jasmine tea, and compressed teas in cake form are made both from oolong and red teas.

Herbal teas are made from a variety of plants. They are not true teas because they are not made with the tea plant. Red tea sometimes refers to herbal teas made from the South African rooibos shrub. It has a strong taste and smells earthy. It is high in antioxidants and is caffeine free.

Non-drink products made from tea include Green Tea Cooling Bubbles Foot Lotion and Green Tea Radiant Body Foam made by Elizabeth Arden. A French fragrance company has introduced a tea-scented perfume spray made with Chinese Lapsang Souchong, Indian Darjeeling and Sri Lankan Orange Pekoe. Super-model Claudia Schiffer and actresses Michelle Pfeifer and Isabelle Adjani are among those who are said to use it.

Chinese Tea and Popular Teas in China

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Jin Fo Oolong tea leaf
Among the popular teas in southern China are jasmine heung pin, slightly bitter sau mei, earthy black bo lei and chrysanthemum tea. Many people recommend the pu-er, oolong and green teas. Shanghai gok fa cha ice tea is served with sugar.The lush mountains of coastal Fujian Province are famous for oolong tea. Sometimes oolong teas are blended and filtered through charcoal and silver.

Huiming tea of Zhejiang province, olong tea of Guangdong Province and Beiling tea of Fujian Province are all produced by members of the She nationality. Huiming tea was tribute item in the Ming and Qing dynasties and was awarded a gold medal at an international exhibition in Panama in 1915.

According Naoko Iwasaki---a tea arts master certified by the Chinese government---there are more than 1,000 kinds of Chinese tea, either from China or Taiwan. Iwasaki said Chinese tea is divided into six groups, including green, white and black, and is categorized by the level of fermentation, processing, the color of the leaves and other factors. Although the most common tea in China is green tea, the way it is prepared and enjoyed is different from that in Japan. [Source: Aki Omori, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 29, 2011]

For beginners she recommends Chinese oolong tea, the most well-known among blue teas with moderately fermented leaves. "Taiwan oolong tea, in particular, is aromatic and doesn't have any surprises," Iwasaki said. She said uniformly shaped dark green leaves are characteristic of good tea.

The joy of Chinese tea is found not only in the flavor but also in the scent and color. In the making of authentic Chinese tea, small, purpose-built tea cups and pots are used. "With them, you can completely enjoy the scents and flavors. Tea can also be prepared in ordinary, small teapots and sake cups," Iwasaki said.

Chinese teas include green tea, black tea, oolong tea, scented tea, Qintang Maojian tea, GuangXi KudingCha, Liubao tea, Pu'er tea, Tuo tea, Dianhong tea, and Tie Guan Yin tea.

Jasmine Tea and Other Flower Tea

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Purple back begonia tea
Jasmine tea is made from tea mixed with jasmine flowers mixed using certain processes that allow the tea to absorb the floral fragrance of jasmine flowers. Jasmine tea mainly uses the leaves of green tea, There are a small number of black tea and oolong tea leaves and sometimes other types of tea. Jasmine tea is said to relax the nerves and offer headache relief. [Source: www.newpastoral.com]

Chrysanthemum tea is made from Chrysanthemum flowers and blacktea and has a deep aroma and special fragrance. Among the health benefits attributed to it are lower blood pressure, the elimination of cancer cells, and the expansion of the role of coronary artery. Long-term drinking is said to increase the body’s absorption of calcium, regulate cardiac function, lower cholesterol, and prevent of conjunctivitis, For dry eyes also lead to better results.

Magnolia flower tea is a strong-smelling tea produced by mixing fresh or dried magnolia flowers with tea using a certain process. It is said to reduce recurrent headaches caused by emotional tension, fatigue after work or by high blood pressure. It is also said to help people who suffer from hypertension, vascular spasm headache, nasal, headaches and dysmenorrhea.

Osmanthus tea is scented with tea sweet-smelling osmanthus. This retains the flavor of tea, but is also richly scented with osmanthus fragrance. It is said drinking it cools the body, helps the stomach, reduces bad breath, improves vision, prevents ulcer, softens the skin and makes one more beautiful.

Quality Tea in China

As tea culture developed in China over thousands of years, people began to appreciate the shape of the leaves as well as the taste. This aesthetic, which reduced the available supply, means only the best-looking leaves that can command the highest prices are gathered in some areas. [Source: Ben Yue, China Daily, March 28, 2011]

Spring is the crucial season for the tea business. Tea that matures then is of the highest quality thanks to low temperatures and dry conditions. Research by the China Tea Marketing Association (CTMA) shows that the trade in spring tea accounts for 75 percent of the entire year by value, although it consists of only 39 percent of the year's production by volume. According to Chen Jiatong, a tea retailer from Fujian province, the 2011 spring tea came on the market in mid-March, two weeks later than usual, because spring was much colder. The delayed picking time reduces production of spring tea but improves the quality, both of which lead to higher prices. [Ibid]

Special tea from Yunnan Province can sell for as much $75 for 100 grams at a tea shop in Tokyo that specializes in teas from China and Taiwan. Vintage tea leaves from 1987 at the same shop sell for $300 for 100 grams.

Chinese Investors Get Picky about Rare, Exotic Teas

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Tieguanyin tea
Rare and exotic teas are fast developing into investment opportunities. Xinhua News Agency reported futures in the best quality Longjing (or Dragon Well) spring tea, the leaves of which will be picked before early April, have already sold out at 60,000 yuan ($9,146) a kilogram. The teas are mainly given as presents between businessmen after being packaged into a luxury product, according to Zhu Baichang, president of Hangzhou Longjing Tea Group. [Source: Ben Yue, China Daily, March 28, 2011]

The price of Longjing has boosted expectations for this year's spring tea market. Experts said the average price set by farmers might be up 15 percent because of high demand, unusual weather that has improved quality and soaring labor costs. For some specific brands, the retail price could increase more than 50 percent.

In Beijing's Maliandao Tea Street, the biggest tea trade hub in southern Beijing, business is getting busier day-by-day. "We have to delay our closing time from 6 to 8 pm from this week (from March 21)," said Chen Jiatong, a tea retailer from Fujian province, from where most tea entrepreneurs come. "We have been selling about 100 presentation boxes a day recently. Each one contains 500 grams of Longjing tea. Those priced between 600 and 1,000 yuan a box sell the best," she added.

Another retailer, Baoxing Haixin Tea Ltd, which grows organic green tea in Sichuan province, predicts the price should be up about 20 to 30 percent. "Our tea hasn't been picked yet. My boss just called and said the bottom line for this year is 2,400 yuan a kilogram." He predicted a bright future for the tea business, partly because of the beverage's health associations.

"We think the future will be in high-level tea that can go the way of quality French wines in that consumers will care about the varieties and growing area, while lower-quality tea will be manufactured the same way Lipton's is," Wu Xiduan, general secretary of the China Tea Marketing Association (CTMA), told the People’s Daily. Although Wu said he doesn't believe the 60,000-yuan-a-kilogram tea will have an effect on the regular market, the public knows that only the best varieties growing in a few very limited sites will have any investment value. Just as in wine production, good tea-growing sites must have the most suitable temperature, sunshine and humidity for their specific, native varieties. Furthermore, production must be limited.

Chinese Tea Connoisseurs

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Some say China's nouveau rich are harking back to ancient times as witnessed in literature depicting the rituals surrounding the drinking of tea by nobility. In A Dream of Red Mansions, Miaoyu, a beautiful nun, collects snow in plum blossoms and buries them underground in sealed jars for five years, creating an aromatic beverage that became a highly prized tea. [Source: Ben Yue, China Daily, March 28, 2011]

"About 10 percent of our customers bring their own tea to the tea house," said Zhu Jinwu, owner of Beijing Jianchashuiji Tea House. "Some of them have received expensive tea from their friends or business partners. They want to brew it professionally here, where the water and techniques are better. Sometimes they also want us to help them to appraise the tea's fair value," he added.

As the price of the best teas soars, wealthy tea-fanciers are considering conducting the quality-control themselves to hedge their risks. Mr Li, an artist from Beijing who was reluctant to reveal his full name, owns two tea shrubs at a friend's farm on the top of Huangshan Mountain, in Anhui province, where the rare green tea variety Huangshan Maofeng grows. He gives the teas as special presents to new business partners.

Exotic Tea Businesses in China

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A modern Chinese tea company is contemplating delivering an equally powerful image to the world. Sichuan Emei-shan Zhuyeqing Tea Co Ltd, one of the nation's largest by sales, sells its flagship product "Spring Autumn of the Han Dynasty" at 23,800 yuan for a 500-gram presentation box. All the leaves are perfectly shaped. Even the box recalls the Han Dynasty (206 BC to AD 220) with its red and black paint.

The company now runs more than 100 boutique shops in China. There are 15 shops in Beijing. Some of them are next to high-end supermarkets such as BHG. People can sample the drink there and inspect the boxes. The "Lun Dao" series comes in a box designed by Chen You-jian, the famous Hong Kong art designer. They are sold for about 3,000 yuan each, and are considered to be collectors' items.

Another retailer, Baoxing Haixin Tea Ltd, grows organic green tea in Sichuan province. The owner of the business, Zhang Haixin, was a paper trader 20 years ago. In 1991 he bought a 20-hectare farm growing a local variety of green tea called Zhuyeqing (or Bamboo Leaf) organically. Every spring, the company invites skilled tea workers from Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, where the most famous green tea, Longjing, grows. As the organic lifestyle has become more popular, Zhang's business has grown rapidly.

Pu'er Tea

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Longjing steeping
in a tall glass
Pu’er, one of the most exotic teas, is green tea fermented with bacteria. Invented by Tang Dynasty traders. It is produced mainly from scrubby green tea trees that blanket the mountains of fabled Menghai County in Yunnan Province. Pu’er is pleasantly aromatic beverage that promoters claim reduces cholesterol and cures hangovers. The best pu’er teas are aged 20 to 60 years and has been described as being "like a monk---very plain, enduring."

Pu'er tea is sold as loose tea or pressed tea. Pu'er tea is considered different from other teas. The tea leaves are red brown. "Older is better." The older the tea the more concentrated the tea perfume is---and a better. About 20 grams of is used in 500 milliliters of boiling water. Boiling water can be added more than five times. This way drinking Pu'er tea more affordable.

The Jinou and Hani minorities are known in China for cultivating tea bushes that are the source expensive Pu’er tea. Some of the bushes are over 100 years old. Puer is known as “green gold.” It was a key trading item on the ancient “Tea and Horse Route.”

Pu’er has attained near-mythic status. A favorite of emperors and imbued with vague medicinal powers, Pu’er was supposedly invented by eighth-century horseback traders who compressed the tea leaves into cakes for easier transport. Unlike other types of tea, which are consumed not long after harvest, Pu’er tastes better with age. Prized vintages from the 19th century have sold for thousands of dollars a wedge. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 16, 2008]

Over the past decade, the industry has been shaped in ways that mirror the Western fetishization of wine. Sellers charge a premium for batches picked from older plants or, even better, from wild tea trees that have survived the deforestation that scars much of the region. Enthusiasts talk about oxidation levels, loose-leaf versus compacted and whether the tea was harvested in the spring or the summer. (Spring tea, many believe, is more flavorful.) If you study Pu’er your whole life, you still can’t recognize the differences in the teas, one tea buyer said. . I tell people to just buy what tastes good and don’t worry about anything else. [Ibid]

Rise of Pu'er Market in China

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hong kong Iced milk tea
From 1999 to 2007, the priceof Pu’er, increasedtenfold, to a high of $150 a pound for the finest aged Pu’er. Pu’er became the darling of the sipping classes in recent years as this nation’s nouveaux riches embraced a distinctly Chinese way to display their wealth, and invest their savings. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 16, 2008]

Fermented tea was hardly the only caffeinated investment frenzy that swept China during its boom years. The urban middle class speculated mainly in stock and real estate, pushing prices to stratospheric levels before exports slumped, growth slowed and hundreds of billions of dollars in paper profits disappeared over the past year. [Ibid]

In the mountainous Pu’er belt of Yunnan, a cabal of manipulative buyers cornered the tea market and drove prices to record levels. Many investors were led to believe that Pu’er prices could only go up. [Ibid]

Farmers bought minivans, manufacturers became millionairesand Chinese citizens plowed their aavings into black bricks of compacted Pu’er. The saying around here was “It’s better to save Pu’er than to save money,” said Wang Ruoyu, a longtime dealer in Xishuangbanna, the lush, tea-growing region of Yunnan Province that abuts the Burmese border. Everyone thought they were going to get rich. [Ibid]

Many had never experienced the kind of prosperity common in China’s cities. Villagers built two-story brick homes, equipped them with televisions and refrigerators and sent their children to schools in the district capital. Flush with cash, scores of elderly residents made their first trips to Beijing. Everyone was wearing designer labels, said Zhelu, 22, a farmer who is a member of the region’s Hani minority and uses only one name. A lot of people bought cars, but now we can’t afford gas so we just park them. [Ibid]

Collapse of the Pu'er Market in China

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Wongloka tea
Then suddenly the prices of pu’er fell to far below its preboom levels. The collapse of the tea market turned thousands of farmers and dealers into paupers and provided the nation with a very pungent lesson about gullibility, greed and the perils of the speculative bubble. Most of us are ruined, said Fu Wei, 43, one of the few tea traders tosurvive the implosion of the Pu’er market. A lot of people behaved like idiots. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 16, 2008]

The rise and fall of Pu’er partly reflects the lack of investment opportunities and government oversight in rural Yunnan, as well as the abundance of cash among connoisseurs in the big cities. Wu Xiduan, secretary general of the China Tea Marketing Association, said many naïve investors had been taken in by the frenzied atmosphere, largely whipped up by out-of-town wholesalers who promoted Pu’er as drinkable gold and then bought up as much as they could, sometimes paying up to 30 percent more than in the previous year. [Ibid]

He said that as farmers planted more tea, production doubled from 2006 to 2007, to 100,000 tons. In the final free-for-all months, some producers shipped their tea to Yunnan from other provinces, labeled it Pu’er, and then enjoyed huge markups. But with no empirical way to establish a tea’s provenance, many buyers were easily duped. [Ibid]

When values hit absurd levels the buyers unloaded their stocks and disappeared. The market was sensationalized on purpose, Wu said, and when the buyers unloaded their stocks the market was saturated to an extreme level and prices crashed.

Consequences of the Collapse of the Pu'er Market

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Hung Fook Tong
Lemon Tea
For tens of thousands of wholesalers, farmers and other Chinese citizens who poured their money into compressed disks of tea leaves, the crash of the Pu’er market has been nothing short of disastrous. At least a third of the 3,000 tea manufacturers and merchants have called it quits in recent months. Farmers have begun replacing newly planted tea trees with more nourishing---and now, more lucrative---staples like corn and rice. Here in Menghai, the newly opened six-story emporium built to house hundreds of buyers and bundlers is a very lonely place. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 16, 2008]

Very few of us survived, said Fu, 43, among the few tea traders brave enough to open a business in the complex, which is nearly empty. He sat in the concrete hull of his shop, which he cannot afford to complete, and cobwebs covered his shelf of treasured Pu’er cakes. All around him, sitting on unsold sacks of tea, were idled farmers and merchants who bided their time playing cards, chain smoking and, of course, drinking endless cups of tea. [Ibid]

Dozens of vibrantly dressed women from Xinlu sat on the side of the highway hawking their excess tea. There were few takers. The going rate, about $3 a pound for medium-grade Pu’er, was less than a tenth of the peak price. The women said that during the boom years, tea traders from Guangdong Province would come to their village and buy up everyone’s harvest. But last year, they simply stopped showing up. [Ibid]

Back at Menghai’s forlorn tea city, Chen Li was surrounded by what he said was $580,000 worth of product he bought before the crash. As he served an amber-hued seven-year-old variety, he described the manic days before Pu’er went bust. Out-of-towners packed hotels and restaurants. Local banks, besieged by customers, were forced to halve the maximum withdrawal limit. [Ibid]

People had to stand in line for four or five hours to get the money from the bank, and you could often see people quarreling, he said. Even pedicab drivers were carrying tea samples and looking for clients on the street. [Ibid]

A trader who jumped into the business three years ago, Chen survives by offsetting his losses with profits from a restaurant his family owns in Alabama. He also happens to be one of the few optimists in town. Now that so many farmers have stopped picking tea, he is confident that prices will eventually rebound. As for the mounds of unsold tea that nearly enveloped him? The best thing about Pu’er, he said with a showman’s smile, is that the longer you keep it, the more valuable it gets. [Ibid]

World's Most Expensive Tea: Grown from Panda Droppings

In January 2012, AFP reported: “Chinese entrepreneur An Yanshi is convinced he has found the key ingredient to produce the world's most expensive tea---panda dung. The former calligraphy teacher has purchased 11 tonnes of feces from a panda breeding centre to fertilise a tea crop in the mountains of Sichuan province in southwestern China. An says he will harvest the first batch of tea leaves this spring and it will be the "world's most expensive tea" at almost 220,000 yuan ($35,000) for 500 grams (18 ounces). [Source: Allison Jackson, AFP, January 10, 2012]

Chinese tea drinkers regard the first batch of tea to be harvested in the early spring as the best and successive batches, regarded as inferior, will sell for around 20,000 yuan. The 41 year-old, who is so passionate about his new project he dressed in a panda suit for his interview with AFP, has been ridiculed by some in China for his extravagant claims of the potential health benefits of the tea.

But he insists he is deadly serious, saying he quit his job at Sichuan University to throw himself "heart and soul" into his company, Panda Tea, whose logo features a smiling panda wearing a bow tie and holding a steaming glass of green tea. While An hopes to make money from the tea, which he has planted on just over a hectare (2.5 acres) of land, his main mission is to convince the world to protect the environment and replace chemical fertilisers with animal feces---before it is too late.

"Panda dung is rich in nutrition ... and should be much better than chemical fertilisers," An said, as he sat at a traditional Chinese tea table drinking tea grown with cow manure. "People should make a harmonious relationship with heaven, earth and the environment," An said. "Everybody has an obligation to protect the environment," he added, as he showed AFP dozens of traditional Chinese scroll paintings that he has created of cheerful-looking pandas, bamboo and calligraphy.

The tea aficionado got the idea to use panda faeces as fertiliser after attending a seminar last year where he discovered that the bears absorbed less than 30 per cent of the bamboo they consumed, excreting the remaining 70 per cent. An showed journalists a glass jar of fresh-looking panda faeces, which he uses to fertilise two tea plants in his office, noting the "quality" and "green" colour of the dung. He is so convinced that Panda Tea will be a hit that he has patented the idea to prevent a competitor stealing it---a common occurrence in a country where laws protecting intellectual property rights are often flouted.

His claim that the green tea will help people lose weight and protect them from radiation has been ridiculed by some Chinese web users, who have expressed doubts about the purported health benefits of the tea and the high asking price for the first harvest. "If it is such a good fertiliser for tea plants, I want to ask this teacher: why don't you just eat panda dung? Then you can get the rest of the 70 per cent nutrition," a web user called Baihuashu said. Another web user called 24-0 said: "Over 200,000 yuan per jin (500 grams) for panda tea fertilised by panda droppings---is that for drinking tea or drinking pandas' blood?"

Despite the online detractors of his yet-to-be-tested tea, An said he remained undeterred and was already thinking about expanding his business. "After the first batch is harvested, if the quality is really good, we will expand the economies of scale," said An, waving his panda paws for emphasis.

Tea Drinking

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Small pot of oolong tea
Infusion’soaking the leaves---is the best way to make tea. Water and a good pot are important for making the best tea possible. Teas should be infused for about a minute, not "stewed." Stewed tea or tea made with water that is too hot produce an unpleasant bitter taste. One batch of tea usually provides between three and five infusions.

The freshness and chemical make up of the water used in making the tea is also important. Tap water should be avoided. Spring water with a low mineral content is best although some mineral waters enhance the sweetness of green teas. To make a proper pot of tea, the tea first should be allowed to reach room temperature before opening to keep condensation off the leaves.

Tea leaves absorb smells, and exposure to heat. air and moisture cause chemical reaction which can destroy the delicate flavor. Green teas are especially susceptible to outside influences. This mean that teas should stored in air-tight containers such as a pewter tea caddies. Teas not intended for immediate consumption should be taped close in a container and stored in a refrigerator. In shops, try to avoid teas sold from open bags or packaged in containers that could have been sitting around for a long time. Quality tea shops keep their teas stored in sealed tins in dehumidified, air-conditioned vaults.

Tea bags are convenient but they produce low quality cups of tea, say connoisseurs, because they contain inferior pekoe dust not flavorful whole leaves.

During the long train trip from Lhasa to Shanghai, which I took, my compartment mates wiled away the hours drinking leafy tea in lidded glass cups. One guy would periodically take out a small foil packet containing tea and put in a cup. At that point the tea looked like low-grade marijuana. When he added a small amount of water the densely-packed buds expanded like sea monkeys in a petri dish and when the cup was filled to brim a miniature kelp garden formed in his glass cup.

Making Chinese Tea

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Ngong Ping Tea House
Aki Omori wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “In the art of making tea, the teapot and cups are first warmed by pouring hot water in them. Iwasaki says that after the water is poured out, about five grams, or two teaspoonfuls, of tea leaves should be put in the pot. The lid is then placed on the pot to let the leaves steam for a few minutes. When the lid is removed, a refreshing and crisp scent fills the air. [Source: Aki Omori, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 29, 2011]

At this point, just enough hot water to cover the leaves is poured into the pot and then poured out after a short time. "You can drink it then if you want to, but the first batch of hot water is to make the leaves open," Iwasaki said. She advises that hot water be poured in again, and the tea is ready when about 70 percent of the leaves open. The hot tea in the pot should be poured into a separate container, called yuzamashi, before being served in cups. "You can enjoy the scent in the second serving, flavor in the third and a pleasant aftertaste in the fourth." While taking in the beauty of the light green tea, you can enjoy the slightly sweet, mellow taste, Iwasaki says. After drying, a pleasant aroma will remain in the cup.

In Taiwan, a special slim cup is used to enjoy the tea's aroma. After the tea is made in the cup it is moved to another container and the aroma remains in the empty cup. I tried it with a cup that was once filled with oolong tea and I picked up the sweet, vanilla-like smell. "While enjoying the color, scent or flavor, you can also delve further into the art by studying tea utensils or growing areas which may bring you closer to Chinese culture itself. The good thing about this particular aspect of the art is that there are few limits. It is up to you which leaves you use and how much time you spend to enjoy the tea," Iwasaki said.

Cool Chinese tea made by mizudashi, or brewing with cold water, is recommended for hot summer days. Iwasaki served a Taiwan oolong tea that was harvested in summer and brewed using the mizudashi method. "Tea brewed in cold water makes for a mild taste." You can make mizudashi tea by adding eight to 10 grams of oolong or other leaves to a liter of water and keeping it in the refrigerator overnight. Drain the leaves after the water darkens. Mizudashi tea can also be made with regular green or black tea.

Tea and Health

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Tea contains a number antioxidants, chemicals that prevent cell damage caused by highly reactive molecules called free radicals that are often associated with cancer and to a lesser extent heart disease. Polyphenols are a kind of antioxidant found in tea that have been shown to deactivate substances that help cancer grow and block the action of enzymes that cancers need for growth. Polyphenols are also found in red wine. Polyphenols in tea are more potent than polyphenols from other sources such as Vitamins C and E. Black tea has more complex antioxidants than green tea, and these appears to benefit the heart.

Tea also contains large amounts of catechins---a type of tannin---with antioxidant qualities linked with longevity, reducing blood pressure, and preventing cancer, heart and liver diseases. Tannins are organic substance found in tea and wood. Taken in large amounts tannins can be toxic but their negative affects in the human body can be reduced if consumed with milk.

A study by scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that the immune system of people who drank five to six cups of Lipton tea every day for two to four weeks produced five times more infection-fighting interferon cells than people who drank a similar amount of coffee. The interferon cells were produced by gamma delta T cells in the immune system triggered by amino acids called L-theanine found in large quantities in tea.

Green tea has more vitamins, particularly B1, B2 and C, than other teas because it is not processed. Among the cancer-fighting polyphenols found in green tea is EGCG. Strongly associated with cancer fighting, it has 30 times more radical-fighting effect that vitamin E and 500 times more than vitamin C. EGCG can prevent the growth of blood vessels, which supply nutrients that cancerous tumors need to grow. It was once thought that green tea contains significantly more polyphenols such as EGCG than other teas but the amounts are more or less the same in all teas.

There is evidence that green tea prevents second heart attacks among people who have already had one; reduces muscle degeneration; cuts the infecting---ability of viruses and bacteria; and offers protection from prostrate, breast, stomach and colon cancer.

Studies of Tea and Health

Most of the evidence on tea's health benefits come from animals studies. These include studies that show mice given polyphenols are less likely to develop arthritis and that tea inhibits the growth of tumors. Animal studies have show that polyphenols combat cancer, and are particularly effective in combating cancer of the oral cavity and digestive tract.

A number of studies have addressed the cancer-fighting qualities of tea. A study in China showed that polyphenols reduced the size of pre-cancerous mouth lesions. A study in the United States with 35,000 women, showed that tea consumption reduced the chances of developing cancer in the digestive and urinary tract. A study with 110,000 men and women in the Netherlands indicated that tea drinking reduced cancers of the lung, breast and colon. A study in Italy showed that men of high risk of getting prostate cancer who took the equivalent of three or four cups of green tea a day were less likely to develop cancer than men given a placebo.

A number of studies have addressed the benefits of tea to the heart. A study in China showed that heavy tea drinking lowered cholesterol levels. A study in Japan has linked oolong tea with lowering cholesterol levels. A Harvard study in the United States indicated that black tea drinkers were half as likely to get heart disease as non tea drinkers. The popularity of tea in Japan and China may partly explain why rates of heart diseases are so low there.

Tea drinking has also been linked with reducing cavities and fighting plaque. One study has shown that tea kills cavity-causing bacteria. Another study found that tea drinkers have a better chance of surviving a heart attack than non tea-drinkers.

The jury is still out as to whether tea and green tea are the elixirs that they have has been touted to be. Positive results from animals studies don’t necessarily translate to positive results for humans. Human studies have been inconclusive. In studies that have showed reduced cancer, disease or cholesterol levels among green tea or tea drinkers, it is difficult to prove that the tea lead to the positive result not something else. Many tea drinkers also eats lots of fruits and vegetables and it is difficult to ascertain which things are actually providing the help.

Sichuan Tea Houses

Tea drinking is an especially important part of the culture of Sichuan Province, particularly the city of Chengdu, which is famous for its tea houses. The people in central Sichuan like to drink tea with a lid-covered teacup. The lid-covered tea invented in Chengdu is unique. [Source: expatsinchina.com /~\]

Sichuan Province is one of the oldest tea production spots in China, so the activities related with tea are quite rich. The tea houses in Chengdu are famous. There were around 700 of them before China’s liberation in 1949. Covered bowl tea is characteristic of these tea houses. In a traditional Sichuan tea house, a tea master serves the tea in red copper teapot with a tin saucer, and a covered bowl made of Jingdezhen porcelain. The stools and bamboo chairs in the tea house enable customers to savor their tea in sitting or lying positions. After the guests come in, they can view and admire the tea making. The tea master displays the tea set on a table. Then he carries a large teapot in one hand, and turns over the cover with the other hand, making the tea and covering the teacup. The whole process is surprisingly fast and no single drop of water is spilled on the table. The covered bowl tea set not only keep the tea hot, but also allows one regulate the temperature through opening and closing the lid. One can immediately drink the tea, or savor it slowly. The strong tea fragrance warms the hearts of Chinese as much as drinking the tea itself. ~

Congou tea Drinking

Drinking the congou is a tradition of Han people in Chaozhou of Guangdong Province as well as their first custom of receiving guests. Today, overseas Chaozhou people take "congou" as a symbol of being Chinese. The great Chinese writer Liang Shiqiu wrote: "The strong and thick flavor of the congou should not be compared by any other kind of tea." The tea set is particularly exquisite and the little pot looks more like toys. "The tea has a function of neutralizing the effect of alcoholic drinks. When drinking it, it feels like chewing olive, and a little astringent in the root of tongue. After drinking several cups, it seems that the more you drink, the thirstier you become. It requires time, tea set, and attendant when drinking congou."

The tea set of congou is exquisite and beautiful, The making technique is also refined. The congou tea set is generally made up of three cups and a little pottery pot made in Yixing. On the tray there is also a little kettle and a small charcoal stove. You can make the tea whenever the water is boiled. The congou uses black tea, Tie Guanyin being the top grade. The making process of the congou is clean and scientific. When pouring the tea, you had better not make the cup full. The tea should be offered to elders and guests first. Others drink in the next round. The tea is only added after several rounds of drinking. Drinking and chatting takes some times and the congou gains its name from that.

Image Sources: Mostly Wiki Commons plus 1) Columbia University, University of Washington, Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html , Julie Chao http://juliechao.com/pix-china.html

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2015

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