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Tea: Knowledge, Types, and Tastes
Spring Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(1) pages: 33 to 37
Tea comes from one plant, Camellia sinensis. Many
primitive tea trees are found in China, most in the
Yunnan Province; and we did read that one of the
largest has a diameter of almost four feet. It is about
one hundred twenty feet tall and about seventeen
hundred years old. It may not be the oldest, tallest, or
the one with the largest trunk diameter. It was found
on the slope of Mount Nannuo. There may be an even
bigger and older one in Jinggu County, but how big or
where we do not know as we lost
the article mentioning it.
Yunnan is probably where the
world’s first tea trees originated.
Most tea sold and consumed in
ancient times did grow there
and on similar trees. Nowadays,
tea grows on bushes as they are
pruned to be easy to pick its
leaves more easily than they did
from these huge trees. Tea leaves
are also smaller as they are picked
several times a year. The old wild tea trees had larger
leaves and were picked less often. Nowadays, tea from
these smaller bushes is consumed more often. This
may be because more people worldwide drink tea as
it is the world’s most popular beverage after water,
and the world’s population is larger than ever so more
people drink more tea than ever before.
The Tea Research Institute of the Yunnan Academy of
Agricultural Sciences is outside the town of Menghai.
There, they do lots of research about this plant and its
beverage. Visiting there is a great experience as one
learns about where tea originated, what tea trees and
bushes are available and where, and so much more. We
read there that are three hundred and eighty different
teas in Yunnan and throughout China, all coming from
Though it sounds like an oxi-moron, the oldest living
trees are in the ‘virgin’ forest of Dahei Mountain. The
Blang are believed to be the first cultivators of tea, and
they still live in the Village of Hesong where they love
their special tea made sour. They did use big mature
leaves that they steamed first, then dried, then tightly
packed in old bamboo tubes. These, they buried in the
ground for several months to two years.
Records in Xiangming and Yiwu, two districts of
Mengla County, did produce tea in large quantities
twelve hundred years ago, perhaps even earlier. Their
teas came from one of ten tea-producing mountains
in this region. It did dominate the tea trade, and they
frequented one of the more than thirty tea depots
there. Tea horse caravans were loaded their tea daily
during all picking seasons. So were other teas.
Some descendants of former tea merchants still live in
this county. The Customs House where lots of their tea
was sold no longer sells any. It was in use until near
the end of the Qing Dynasty, and
still stands today. In it is a stone
tablet in its guild hall saying that a
hundred and fifty years ago, there
were tea merchants who refused
to pay high taxes on teas sold
there. We never knew the Boston
Tea Party was not the first negative
reaction against tea taxes.
People say that Prime Minister
Zhuge Liang, a strategist living in
the Jinou Mountains was one of the
first to make tea with large tea leaves. He lived in the
State of Shu during the Three Kingdoms period (220 -
280 CE), and is credited with pioneering tea drinking in
On his birthday, the 23rd
day of the 7th lunar month,
the Jinuo minority people
remember and honor him
by preparing tea as he did.
They age then heat adding
water to their tea leaves
then heating them over
braziers. Earlier, their tea
was wrapped in phrynium
leaves and put into bamboo
sections then roasted over
a fire. These days they put
tea leaves into bamboo
sections and boil them for a
few minutes on his birthday.
Actually, he did teach them
to use tea leaves to cure
hangovers by cooking them
this way or adding salt and
hot pepper to their tea
Pu-er tea does not usually come from
this region and is a multi-fermented tea
once only made with black tea leaves
that the Chinese call red tea. They are
referring to the color of the brew while
black is the color of theses dried leaves.
The term pu-er today is not often used,
because this fermented tea is more often
simply called ‘Yunnan Tea’ whether
compressed or loose. It is also now
made with green or black tea leaves.
When processed, they are sun-dried or oven-heated,
and these tea leaves change to very dark green. The
Chinese still categorize their teas by the color of the
brew. There are some tea leaves pressed when damp,
others dried first. Most have many polyphenols and/or
catechin components; and many say they improve the
elasticity of the blood vessels of those who drink lots of
tea. They also say this tea decreases blood pressure.
This process is called oxidation and is said to improve
the taste of the tea the longer it is oxidized. Tea made
this way is also said to provides strong digestive and
salivary functions when steamed; and the older it is,
also the better these pu-er teas taste.
Pu-er tea is sold loose but earlier was always in toucha
disks with their indentation on the under side (See this
on page 32). Usually round, they can be square or as
cakes, and some are known as Jincha. These are popular
in Tibet where this tea is preferred as ‘butter’ tea.
Many think of tea only as a beverage, but in ancient
China, it was used as an herb, a soup, as a vegetable, and
as a beverage. A special ancient brew was called ‘Lei’
tea, and General Zhang Fei did inspect
it in Wuling County giving it to those
suffering from migraine headaches. He
brewed that tea with fresh tea leaves,
rice, ginger, and salt. He touted it that
way to help them recover from migraine
headaches. Some did add cooked
peanuts, sesame seeds, and pepper,
and they liked it even more when it did
a better job of curing these migraines.
If you visit a Tibetan home and are
offered buttered tea or get to order
some in a restaurant, do watch them
break up the brick tea and mix it with
salt, butter, and sometimes with spices.
Then they filter out the tea leaves, and
beat the liquid before serving it.
Before drinking this tea, we saw one chap flick off drops
of this tea three times. We were told he was paying his
respects to the Heavenly God, the Earth
God, and the Dragon God. He then
drank it and we were told it would help
him resist the cold and dampness; even
build up his immunity.
After Princess Wen Cheng married
Tibetan King Songstan Gambo, it did
help his digestion, so people said it was
a good source of vitamins missing from
the diet, so she convinced him and they
did drink it several times a day.
Drinking different teas with the
Chinese, one learns how the Han and how their
minority neighbors drink tea. Each Chinese ethnic
minority nationality drinks tea differently; and they
use different teas in different regions. Only Tibetans
drink buttered tea. The Blang drink sour tea, most
others drink their own special teas; and the Bai enjoy
theirs as three course tea.
According to historical documents, tea caravans used
some fifty thousand horses each year to carry tea
to different regions of China. While no caravan had
thousands of horses, there were thousands of caravans
transporting tea every year. Some had only a couple
of horses, many had a hundred, even three to five
hundred with packs of tea saddled to their sides. When
it rained that tea could get wet, if it was exceptionally
hot, it might dry-fry, etc.
All tea did arrive at its destinations in various ways.
Many caravans had arduous journeys, their water or
food might run out or get stolen, or they experienced
other difficulties. Most caravans had problems one
time or another, particularly on nights they did not bed
down in a caravanserai.
Some routes had government
monopolies that did control the tea
trade. Some experienced hazardous
journeys, some were lucky and had
no problems. One caravan, a Ming
Imperial Court did prohibit their moving
tea shrubs and exchanging tea seeds as
they did not want individuals or groups
to grow or sell tea. They wanted it all
for themselves. Today, tea is traded
freely, in earlier times it was not.
In Mojiang on an ancient caravanserai
street in their town, they sold Yenzhen
Tea, a local specialty, These leaves
were rolled tightly, brewed in hot water, and enjoyed
sweet. They also sold shellac, but what that relationship
was or why we know not. Here, Hani women wore
special head gear, had leggings and belts embroidered
with floral designs, and traded them and tea often.
Some traded it for fast food or fast horses.
In Kunming, a cultural center in the Yunnan Province,
there were two main highways selling tea for these fast
horses. On Stone Street, there was a well--polished road
where everyone did slip and slide when it rained. In a
tiny town in Tonghai was a large Mongolian community
that had their tea their way. Here, these men were
probably offspring of soldiers once garrisoned here,
so they did enjoy strong tea made with big tea leaves,
and they had cubes of sugar between their teeth. This
reminded me of my grandma who always had her tea
with one or more sugar cubes in her teeth. She was not
Chinese nor Mongolian, she was Polish.
The Dai, Hani, and the Jingpo had Bamboo Tea steamed,
sun-dried, sealed, and cooked in bamboo. Some had
Rose Tea fried with nuts, soybeans, sesame seeds,
popcorn, and rose petals. It was fried until dark brown.
Tea in China is consumed by all fifty-five minority
groups, and in more than one hundred sixty other
countries, and on five continents.
Tea as a beverage is loved by many folk world-wide.
It is loved in high and dry regions, it helps increase
saliva and it quenches thirst. It stimulates and relieves
tiredness, and many Chinese, drink thirty or more cups
a day as some Tibetans do. Mongolians drink milk
tea with toasted rice in it, some drink it only once a
day, others do so a dozen times every day. Some have
ceremonial ways to drink tea.
How do you drink or eat your tea? Below are some
recipes to use tea. Most are popular among the Chinese.
During the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE), some rulers did
collect tea taxes, some dumped tea because of a tea tax.
We know of no tea tax today; do you?
During the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 CE) people had
to pay a tea toll when transporting it. In some times,
merchants had to pay or carry ‘toll coupons. If they
did not, they did receive severe penalties including
beheading if they did not. Tea rules, tea types, tea tolls,
and tea penalties did exist all over China. That country
is the largest tea-consuming nation in the world. We
hope you will enjoy your tea in as many ways and as
often as many Chinese do. In the meantime, enjoy some
of the Chinese tea recipes that follow.
|Spiced Tea Eggs|
¾ cup black tea leaves
4 pieces stick cinnamon
8 star anise
7 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 Tablespoons coarse salt
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1. Put eggs in pot of cold water, slowly bring the water
to the boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for fifteen
minutes, then let them cool for an hour. Now drain
them, and lightly roll them one by one on a hard surface
cracking the shells, not breaking nor peeling them.
2. Now add water to cover the cracked eggs, and add the
tea leaves, cinnamon, star anise, soy sauce, salt, and
the sugar, and slowly bring this to the boil, then reduce
the heat to a simmer, and cover the pot. Simmer for
two hours, then discard the water and let the eggs cool,
then refrigerate. When cold and ready to serve, peel,
and discard the shells. Now cut in four to six pieces per
egg, and serve.
|Spare Ribs in Tea|
3 Tablespoons jasmine tea leaves in a big loose tea bag or loosely knotted in cheese cloth.
1 pound spare ribs, cut apart, then blanched for three minutes, then discard the water, and chop the ribs into one-inch pieces
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon minced ginger
1 scallion, minced
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon corse salt
1 Tablespoon Sichuan chili oil
1 cup glutinous rice, steamed, optional
1. Mix tea leaves with one cup boiling water, and let
steep for ten minutes.
2, Heat wok or heavy pan, add oil, ginger, and scallion
pieces and stir-fry for one minute, then add the spare
ribs and stir-fry bor five minutes, then reduce the heat,
add the soy sauce, wine, and the tea bag or knotted
cheese cloth with the tea leaves, and simmer for fifteen
minutes or until meat is cooked through.
3. Add the chili oil, stir well, and serve; with the rice, if
|Pork Belly, Rice Noodles, and Jasmine Tea|
2 - 3 ounces dry wide mung bean noodles
½ pound belly pork, blanched for three minutes, water discarded, then cut into thick slices, each then cut into one-inch pieces
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons jasmine tea, soaked in boiling water for ten minutes, then drain reserving the softened tea leaves
3 scallions, each cut in one-inch pieces
5 slices fresh ginger
3 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon chili oil
1. Soak mung bean noodles until soft, then simmer
them for ten minutes, drain, and cut them into two-inch
pieces, and mix them with half the vegetable oil, and
set them aside.
2. Cover pork with cold water, bring to the boil, reduce
the heat, soaked jasmine tea leaves and simmer for half
an hour or until belly pork is cooked through.
3. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the rest of the vegetable
oil, and stir-fry the scallions and ginger for one minute,
then add the salt, rice wine, and sugar and stir well,
then return the belly pork pieces t the wok or fry pan
and stir-fry them for five minutes, then add the rice
noodles and stir-fry everything for ten more minutes,
4 pounds short ribs, bones removed, the meat of each one cut in half
2 Tablespoons cornstarch or potato starch vegetable oil spray
5 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
8 slices fresh ginger
3 scallions, coarsely minced
½ cup peeled pumpkin cut into one-inch chunks
4 teaspoons jasmine tea leaves
¼ cup brown sugar
¾ cup cooked rice
3 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons crushed rock sugar
¼ cup Chinese rice wine
1 cardamon seed pod, lightly crushed
2 squares fermented red rice, mashed
1. Mix rib meat and the corn or potato starch and set
aside for ten minutes.
2. Spray some vegetable oil on a wok or large fry
pan, and heat, then add the meat and stir-fry for two
minutes or until golden brown, and then put the meat
on a clean plate.
3. Add the short rib meat, garlic, ginger, and scallion
pieces for one minute, then set aside .for one to two
minutes, then add the meat and six cups of water, bring
to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for one
hour, then transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
4. In a different pot, simmer the soy sauce, tomato
paste, and rice vinegar with the rock sugar, rice wine,
the cardamon pod, and the mashed fermented rice
squares for half an hour.
5. Then rinse the wok and dry it, and line it with
aluminum foil, add the sugar, steamed rice, and the tea
leaves on top of the foil, heat this mixture until it starts
to smoke, then place the meat on the rack and cover
the pan, reduce the heat and smoke for ten minutes,
then remove the duck from there, and serve.
|Camphor Tea Duck|
1 whole duck, feet removed, head left on
¼ teaspoon pink Himalayan salt
3 Tablespoons toasted ground Sichuan peppercorns
3 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
3 scallions, cut into one-inch pieces
10 slices fresh ginger
½ cup sawdust or ¾ cup ground tea leaves
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
½ cup Chinese bean sauce
1 cup vegetable oil
1. A day or two before beginning to cook, dry the duck
inside and out, and press down on its breast bone to
crack its ribs; and then rub outside and inside with a
mixture of the Himalayan pink salt, peppercorns, and
rice wine, and refrigerate over night or as much as for
two days, lightly covered, with plastic wrap. Turn the
duck over several times during this time.
2, Prepare a smoker out of doors, put tea leaves and
sugar in its small pan under the duck at the bottom
of the smoker, turn on the heat, and smoke the duck,
breast side up, for half an hour, then turn off the heat
and let the duck rest for half an hour.
3. Next, steam the duck over boiling water, breast side
sown, for one hour, basting it every fifteen minutes.
Now remove it from the steamer and allow it to cool.
Reserve all the juices, and after one hour, dry it with
4. Prepare the sauce mixing the sesame oil, bean
sauce, and soy sauce and heat this is a wok, then pour
it over the duck catching and reserving any remains.
5. Now chop the duck wings and legs in half, and chop
the duck into one- to two-inch pieces.
6. Heat the oil, and fry the duck pieces until lightly
browned, Do this in batches, and when each batch is
browned, put it on paper towels to absorb any excess
oil. Serve while still hot.
|Tea-Flavored Quail Eggs|
30 quail eggs
3 Tablespoons green tea leaves
3 slices fresh ginger
3 scallions, knotted
1 Tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
1 piece tangerine peel
1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
1 Tablespoons crushed rock sugar
5 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
5 Tablespoons mao tai or another Chinese liquor
1. Simmer the quail eggs for five minutes, then let them
cool, and gently roll and crack the shells on a hard
surface, do not peel them yet.
2. Now pour boiling water into a medium pot, add the
tea leaves, ginger, scallion knots, Sichuan peppercorns,
fennel seeds, sugar, and both soy sauces, and the
Chinese liquor, and simmer then covered in a large pot
so they are completely covered, and refrigerate one day
or up to a week; then peel them, cut each one in half,
and serve at room temperature.
|Shrimp and Dragon Well Tea|
1 pound fresh shrimp, shells left on, veins discarded
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 egg white
3 Tablespoons potato starch
5 Teaspoons Dragon Well tea leaves
1 cup and 2 Tablespoons Vegetable oil, separated
3 Tablespoons Shao Xing wine
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with the same amount of cold water
Red rice wine, optional, for dipping
1. Mix shrimp with salt and egg white, then add the
potato starch and chill for two or three hours in the
2. Put tea leaves in a bowl with one-quarter cup boiling
water and brew for two or three minutes,
then strain out and reserve the tea leaves.
3. Heat a wok or pot, add the two tablespoons of oil, add
the shrimp and stir until they separate, the add the rest
of the oil, keep the temperature low and stir until they
are separated more, then remove them, add the tea
leaves, then the cornstarch mixture, and the brewed
tea, stir ntil shrimp are coated, then serve them.
|Apricot Kernels, Tea, and Egg Whites|
1 cup apricot kernels, soaked until soft, then drained and blended
1 Tablespoon jasmine tea leaves. Soaked until soft
3 egg whites. Beaten until fluffy but not stiff
2 Tablespoons rock sugar, crushed
1. Put apricot kernels into a blender with four cups
of cold water, and blend until smooth, then pour this
apricot-kernel-liquid through cheese cloth set over a
bowl and drain saving the liquid and discarding the
2. Heat the apricot-kernel-liquid in a pot over medium
heat, add the crushed rock sugar, then slowly add
the beaten egg whites and serve hot, tepid, or at room
temperature immediately after adding them.
|Green Tea and Water Chestnut Dessert|
2 Tablespoons cornstarch, divided in three parts
1 cup vegetable oil
20 peeled cooked water chestnuts chopped very coarsely or cut into thin pieces
3 Tablespoons confectioners sugar
1. Put tea leaves in one cup very hot water and steep
for five minutes, then drain the tea leaves on paper
towels and mix with one-third (or two teaspoons) of
2. Heat the oil in a wok or a deep sauce pan until a
square of bread brown in a minute or two, and deep
fries in a half a minute, an dry the tea leaves for half a
minute, and remove them quickly with a slotted spoon
to paper towels. Do not let them burn.
3. Mix water chestnuts with the rest (four teaspoons)
of the corn starch, make sure the il is reheated and
fry the water chestnuts for two minutes until they are
light brown in color, then remove them with the slotted
spoon to other paper towels and drain them.
4. Put the tea leaves in the center of a platter, and dust
them with the sugar, and put the fried water chestnuts
around them, and mix the tea leaves and the water
chestnuts just when ready to serve them.