"When a guest comes to my home from afar on a cold night, I light bamboo to boil tea to offer him." — Ancient Chinese poem.
Chinese tea has a history of over 5,000 years, during which a series of unique tea culture have come into being, covering from tea plant cultivation and conservation, tea-leaf picking to processing and sampling tea. Tea-leaves are mainly produced in the southern area to the Yangtze River for mild climate and fertile ground there, such as the provinces of Zhejiang, Yunnan, Guizhou and Fujian. There produce an abundance of renowned tea varieties, e.g. Longjin, Wulong, Pu#er, Tieguangyin.
Tea culture is one of the common traits shared by all the 56 ethnic groups in China. Many Chinese people believe that a day is not perfect without a cup of tea. Either in the warm southern mountain area or on the frozen northern grassland, stuff like Gongfu tea, buttered tea and milk tea are all among the favorite drinks. Furthermore, both ancient and modern Chinese people tend to indulge in elaborating on poems, essays, dances and dramas on the tea.
China is the homeland of tea. It is believed that China had taa-shrubs as early as five to six thousand years ago, and human cultivation of teaplants dates back two thousand years. Tea from China,along with her silk and porcelain, began to be known the world over more than a thousand years ago and has since always been an important Chinese export. At present more than forty countries in the world grow tea with Asian countries producing 90% of the world,s total output. All tea trees in other oountries have their origin directly or indirectly in China. The habit of tea drinking spread to Japan in the 6th century, but it was not introduced to Europe and America till the 17th and 18th centuries. Now the number of tea drinkers in the world is legion and is still on the increase.
Chinese tea may be classified into five catagories according to the different methods by which it is processed.
(1) Green tea: Green tea is the variety which keeps the original colour of the tea leaves without fermentation during processing. This category consists mainly of Longjing tea of Zhejiang Province, Maofeng of Huangshan Mountain in Anhui Province and Biluochun produced in Jiangsu.
(2) Black tea: Black tea,known as"red tea" (hong cha)in China, is the category which is fermented before baking; it is a later variety developed on the basis of the green tea. The best brands of black tea are Qihong of Anhui,Dianhong of Yunnan. Suhong of Jiangsu,Chuanhong of Sichuan and Huhong of Hunan.
(3) Wulong tea: This represents a variety half way between the green and the black teas, being made after partial fermentation. It is a specialty from the provinces on China#s southeast coast: Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwan.
(4) Compressed tea: This is the kind of tea which is compressed and hardened into a certain shape.It is good for transport and storage and is mainly supplied to the ethnic minorities living in the border areas of the country. As compressed tea is black in colour in its commercial form, so it is also known in China as "black tea". Most of the compressed tea in the form of bricks; it is, therefore, generally called"brick tea", though it is sometimes also in the form of cakes and bowls. It is mainly produced in Hubei,Hunan,Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.
(5) Scented tea: This kind of tea is made by mixing fragrant flowers in the tea in the course of processing. The flowers commonly used for this purpose are jasmine and magnolia among others. Jasmine tea is a well-known favorite with the northerners of China and with a growing number of foreigners.
Tea is produced in vast areas of China from Hainan Island down in the extreme south to Shandong Province in the north, from Tibet in the southwest to Taiwan across the Straits, totalling more than 20 provinces. These may be divided into four major areas:
(1) The Jiangnan area: It lies south of the middle and lower reaches of the Changjiang (Yangtze) River, and is the most prolific of China,s tea-growing areas. Most of its output is the green variety; some black tea is also produced.
(2) The Jiangbei area: This refers to a large area north of the same river, where the average temperature is 2-3 Centigrade degrees lower than in the Jiangnan area. Green tea is the principal variety turned out there, but Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, which are also parts of this area. produce compressed tea for supply to the minority areas in the Northwest.
(3) The Southwest area: This embraces Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou and Tibet, producing black, green as well as compressed teas. Pu,er tea of Yunnan Province enjoys a good sale in China and abroad.
(4) The Lingnan area: This area, consisting of the southern provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian and taiwan, produces Wulong tea, which is renowned both at home and abroad.