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Tea In China

China has the widest range of teas in the world which are of the finest quality, with many still made by hand.

Commercial cultivation of tea in China began well before the birth of Christ and in the past, Chinese merchants recognized more than 8,000 different types of tea. Different classification systems exist by methods of manufacture, grades of quality of manufacture or different leaf grades, and place names.Tea crops used to be grown wherever a peasant or farmer had a space on the family smallholding but there are now large tea farms in the Fujian province catering to export markets.

Until the late nineteenth century, techniques used for tea cultivation were much the same as they had always been. Seeds were collected in October germinated through the winter months, then planted out during the spring rains in neat rows. Larger plantations were laid out on north-and east-facing hillsides, and millet and corn were grown amongst the tea bushes to provide shade. During the colder winter months, straw was tied around the bushes to protect them from frost. An ancient Chinese proverb says that "The finest teas come from high mountains" and this is true, but it did not stop the Chinese from growing tea everywhere, even on the outskirts of busy towns as well as in extremely inaccessible and isolated locations.

A description by Robert Fortune in his book A Journey to the Tea Countries of China, published in 1852, gives a good idea of how the tea was processed: "In the harvest seasons, are seen little family groups on the side of every hill, when the weather is dry, engaged in gathering the tea leaves." The drying pans and furnaces are of iron, round and shallow, and, in fact, are the same or nearly the same, which the natives have in general used for cooking their rice.

The pans become hot very soon after the warm air has begun to circulate in the flue beneath them. A quantity of leaves, from a sieve or basket, are now thrown into the pans, and turned over and shaken up. The leaves are immediately affected by the heat, This part of the process lasts about five minutes in which time the leaves lose their crispness and become soft and pliable, They are then taken out of the pans and thrown upon a table, the upper part of which is made of split bamboo. "three or four persons now surround the table, and the heap of leaves is divided into many parcels each individual taking as many as he can hold in his hands, and the rolling process commences."
Since the Cultural Revolution, tea co- operatives have been established and the tea industry rationalized, with mechanization being introduced in most factories to replace the age-old hand methods. In some places, however, skilled hand production still goes on. With China opening up to the world economy since the late 1970s, however, tea production has been taking place at a wider 1 scale to cater to export markets.Privatized outfits are now common and operate alongside state tea enterprises.

Today, there are at least 18 regions in which tea is grown, Anhui, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guizhou, Hainan, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Shandong, Sichuan,Yunnan, Zhejiang,Tibet, and Guangxi Zhuang.The most important regions are Zhejiang, Hunan, Sichuan, Fujian, and Anhui. Production in the state-owned companies give precise details on their packages as to which office of which branch of which company was responsible for the manufacture and marketing of the particular tea contained in the package.

These state cooperatives produce good quality black, oolong, and green teas that are generally blended to give standard quality every year. Some of these standard quality teas are of excellent quality and are mostly exported. About 80 percent of annual production is of green teas for the domestic market. Most black and oolong teas are designed for the export market, and are sold through direct contact with tea companies rather than through the auctions. However, with the advent of the private sector in China,the numbers of ways in which private sector companies distribute, sell, or process teas have taken on more sophisticated forms of supply-chain management China' "first crop" teas are plucked from mid-April to mid-May.This harvest is thought to give the finest quality tea, and produce roughly 55 percent of annual production.The second crop is picked in early summer and a third autumn crop is harvested in some areas. However, it is important to note that seasonal differences exist between different species of teas.

China teas are not normally sold by garden name but rather by names that denote method of manufacture and quality. Names
can be confusing depending on whether you prefer to address the tea by its Wade-Giles names or Hanyu pinyin names.Names like
Fukienese (or Fujian Province in Hanyu Pinyin designation), Cantonese (or Guangdong in Hanyu Pinyin Prounciation), and standard Chinese has been used for tea over the centuries. Each province tends to have its own name for each tea, its own spelling, and its own pronunciation. Consequently, names that look and sound completely different may refer to exactly the same tea. However, with the standardization of the use of Hanyu Pinyin system for foreign speakers, tea names are beginning to be standardized as well. An additional problem is caused by the fact that even in Chinese, one tea may have more than one name—its main name, its historical or legendary name, and a name that gives additional geographical information.

So, a tea that is marketed in the West as Chunmee (and also as Chin Mei) is Zhenmei in Pinyin, Janmei in Cantonese, and is often known as Eyebrow Tea because of the appearance of the processed leaf. And Pingshui Gunpowder, manufactured at Pingshui at Pingshui, a town in Shanghai, in Chinese Pinyin is Pinshui Zhucha (which means Pearl Tea, referring to the pellet- shaped balls of tea), and in Cantonese Ping Shui Chue Cha.

As well as the individual names,each tea made available on the market also bears a grade number that indicates that the tea conforms to a given standard.This grade number, however, is becoming less standardized due to the privatization of tea outfits who then adopt different ways of classifying their teas. In the past, tea was purchased without prior sampling, because buyers knew that if a tea did not come up to the given standard, it would not be marketed. However,with the current market economy in China, this cannot be an ironclad guarantee anymore.

Export of China's teas is gaining momentum with increased interest among tea connoisseurs who have recently discovered the amazing variety of types and flavors and recognize their very fine qualities. Exports have risen from 151,016 tons in 1989 to more than 278,083.3 tons in 2002. Tea remains one of China’s most important non-tech-based products along with products like textiles and leather, etc. Its largest markets are Hong Kong, Russia, other East Asian countries, Japan, U.S. and the EU. Sales in the U.S. are increasing steadily and rare China teasare now finding a place in mail-order catalogs, the Internet or even in tea retail outlets which offer not just the blacks and oolongs but also the rarer white teas such as Silver Dragon, and green teas with exotic names such as Tiantai Cloud and Mist, Supreme Dragon Well, several types of Jasmine tea, and compressed teas such asTuo tea (orTuo Cha in Hanyu Pinyin) and Pu-erh (or Puer in Hanyu Pinyin).Pu-erh tea is generally sold for its medicinal qualities. It is thought to be good for treating diarrhea, indigestion, and high cholesterol levels. It is an oolong, semi- fermented tea which is sold in several different forms, including bowl-shaped cakes and tea balls.

China White Teas
Pal Mu Tan Imperial (Balmudan, White Peony)

This rare white tea is made from very small buds and leaves that are plucked in the early spring, just before they open. When they have been steamed and dried. they have the appearance of lots of miniature bunches of small white blossoms with tiny leaves.

Characteristics This white tea comes from Fujian Province and gives a clear, pale infusion with a fresh aroma and a smooth velvety flavor.
Brewing hints Brew 2 teaspoons in a scant I cup water at 185°F. Infuse for 7 minutes,
Drinking recommendations Drink without milk or sugar, after meals as a healthy digestif, or as a light afternoon tea.

China Green Teas
ChUN Mee (Chun Mei, Zhenmei, Precious Eyebrows)

It is the shape of the processed leaves that gives this tea its name. The processing of "eyebrow" teas demands great skill in order to hand roll the leaves to the correct shape at the right temperature for the correct length of time.

Characteristics Long, fine jade leaves that give a clear, pale yellow liquor with a smooth taste. Popular among China’s foreign customers for many years.
Brewing hints Brew 2 teaspoons in a scant I cup water at I58°F. Infuse for 3 to 4 minutes.
Drinking recommendations Drink alone or with mint as a refreshing all-day drink.

China Oolong Teas
Fonghwang Tan-chung 《Fenghuang Dancong,fenghuang Select)

The leaves for this tea come from tall straight- trunked trees and are gathered with the use of long ladders.The local Chinese brew the tea intensively in tiny pots. For the first infusion they steep the leaves for just one minute* for the second, three minutes, and for the third, five minutes.
Characteristics Long golden strips of leaf that turn green in water with reddish-brown edges.The liquor is pale orangey-brown and the first infusion can be bitten .A second infusion is more mellow.
Brewing hints Brew f teaspoon in a scant cup water at 203°F. Infuse for 5 to 7 minutes.
Drinking recommendations Drink in the evening.

PouChong (Pao Zhong, Baozhong)
The name for this very lightly fermented tea comes from the fact that the leaves were originally wrapped in paper during fermentation, ft originates from Fujian Province and the method of manufacture was transposed to Taiwan.

Characteristics Long, stylish black leaf that brews a very mild cup with an amber infusion, smooth flavor, and a very smooth, sweet taste.
Brewing hints Brew I teaspoon in a scant I cup water at 203°R. Infuse for 5 to 7 minutes.
Drinking recommendations Drink without milk as an afternoon or evening tea.

Ti Kwan Yin (Tieguanyin,Tea of the Iron Goddess of Mercy)
This very special oolong tea also comes from Fujian Province, One explanation of the name is that the iron Goddess of Mercy is said to have appeared in a dream to a local farmer and told him to look in the cave behind her temple.There he found a single tea shoot which he planted and cultivated.This is one of China’s most sought-after teas.

Characteristics Stout crinkly leaves that unfurl in boiling water to give greeny-brown lace-edged leaves. The infusion is brownish-green with an aromatic flavor.
Brewing hints Place I teaspoon in a pot and pour in water at 203°F. Immediately pour off the water and let the leaves breathe for a moment or two.Then refill the pot with boiling water and steep the leaves for 3 to 5 minutes.The leaves will give several infusions.
Drinking recommendations In the past this was a tea for very special occasions but now its popularity has made it widely available, and highly affordable. Drink alone without milk or sugar.

China Black Teas

In 1915 Keemun won a gold medal in the Panama Pacific International Exhibition. Grown in Anhui Province it is a "gonfu" or "congou" tea - which means that it is made with disciplined $kill(gongfu) to produce the thin tight strips of leaf without breaking the leaves.

Characteristics The tight black leaves give a rich brown liquor; which has a lightly scented flavor and a delicate aroma.
Brewing hints Brew 1 teaspoon in a scant 1 cup water at 203°F Infuse for 5 to 7 minutes.
Drinking recommendations Excellent with lightly spiced foods and as a digestif. Drink without milk or sugar A perfect evening tea.

Keemun Moa Feng
Moa Feng means "hairpoint" denoting even finer strips of hand-rolled leaf than those found in standard Keemun.

Characteristics The rarest of Keemun teas with beautiful well-made leaves that give a delicate, very fine flavor.
Brewing hints Brew 1 teaspoon in a scant 1 cup water at 203°F. Infuse for 5 to 7 minutes.
Drinking recommendations An evening or afternoon tea to accompany very light foods.

Jiuqu Wuling (Black Dragon)
The name jiuqu means Nine-bend Stream, the area that this tea comes from.This is a fully-fermented "gongfu" black tea, but because if its name it is sometimes wrongly labeled an oolong.

Characteristics Fine, tight twists of leaf that give a coppery red liquor with a mellow, subtle refreshing taste.
Brewing hints Brew 1 teaspoon in a scant 1 cup water at 203°F. Infuse for 5 to 7 minutes.
Drinking recommendations Drink without milk as an afternoon or evening tea.

Szechuan Imperial
Some black teas from China, like this one, are marketed simply by the name of the province in which they are produced. Others include Guangdong Black, Hainan Black, Hunan Black, and Fujian black.

Characteristics Fine tippy leaves that give a deep- colored liquor, a gently aroma, and a smooth almost sweet ,scented flavor.
Brewing hints Brew 1 teaspoon in a scant 1 cup water at 203°F. Infuse for 5 to 7 minutes.
Drinking recommendations An afternoon tea, taken without milk.

China Compressed Teas
Tuancha (Tea Balls)

These balls of tea are made in different sizes, the smallest being about the size of a table tennis ball.

Characteristics Little balls of tea with an earthy flavor and aroma.
Brewing hints Use 5 cups water for each ball. Infuse in boiling water for 5 to 7 minutes.
Drinking recommendations Drink without milk at any time as a light refreshing drink, especially after a meal.

Dschuan cha (Brick Tea or zhuan cha in Hanyu Pinyin)
This is a more decorative item than for use in brewing. It is made by hydraulically compressing black tea dust.

Characteristics Not a tea with any special qualities. More curiosity value than fine flavor.
Brewing hints Infuse a scant I teaspoon per cup in boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes. Strain into cups.
Drinking recommendations An all-day tea. Drink with or without milk.