Tea Culture: China
Tea was so boring.
It was the same thing every day. I’d plop a tea bag in my cup, and sit down to drink my brew.
But it was a smidge bitter. And the powdered bits in my tea bag didn’t look like tea leaves at all.
There had to be something better than this stuff.
Whenever I thought of tea, I’d picture steppes along China’s misty mountaintops where tea was handpicked and placed in baskets.
Why didn’t my tea taste like misty mountaintops?!?
If my tea was sub-par, why should I bother drinking it?
Turns out that the plain taste was the least of my concern.
Tea dust in tea bags have fewer antioxidants and all the healthy stuff generally, which is part of the reason we drink it in the first place, right?
The problem turned out to be the kind of tea I was drinking – crush tear curl (CTC) named for the process most tea bagged tea undergoes before it’s plopped into our cups.
No one wants boring tea.
I decided to learn why tea – an exotic and foreign plant for most of the United States – was being crushed and packaged into such a bland, homogenized product that we were expected to sip with delight.
Chinese tea makers have been growing and perfecting their drying techniques for over 4000 years, so I figured that’s as good a place as any to start.
Tea all comes from the same plant – Camelia Sinensis. The variation sinensis grows in China where it thrives in the moist climate of China’s mountainous regions.
Tea growing regions are like wine growing regions where soil, elevation, and temperature all play a part in forming the flavor of the tea leaf just as they do grapes.
Tea is also like the wine industry in that growers do a lot of experimentation with their growing and production techniques to create unique brews.
Although a region like Fujian Province is famous for its smoky and robust black tea dried over spruce branches (called Lapsang Souchong), the same region can produce a lighter tea that has a more delicate and light brew like oolongs and whites.
When you crush, tear and curl a tea leaf, it loses most of the oils inside that define its flavor.
This method creates the tea dust (also known as fannings) that you find inside a tea bag. That means it’ll brews faster, but it’ll never taste like loose leaf tea. When CTC started being used, the tea companies literally used the sweepings off warehouse floors to fill teabags. They sacrificed complexity of flavor for convenience.
Whole and semi-broken leaves have layers of flavors and aromas when you brew them because they haven’t lost their flavors. They also retain antioxidants that are lost when oxidized by the CTC process.
You won’t find CTC common in the tea shops in China. The Chinese know how to brew a delicious cup.
And each tea is brewed for the proper occasion.
When I traveled to Guilin, China – popular tourist destination for both the Chinese and foreigners – I was the sickest I’d ever been in my life. A woman in a small shop brewed a dark Lapsang Souchong with fresh ginger and served me a cup of what looked like mud. But it was so much more delicious. I hadn’t tasted anything in days, and this strong brew perked me up.
There’s still a lot of tradition in serving teas despite the purge of the Cultural Revolution on all non-communist influences in the country. Gongfu cha is the traditional Chinese tea ceremony. It’s a meditation in motion and allows for an appreciation of the tea and brewing experience that we don’t usually take with our daily cup of tea. (You can change that my taking the free 21 Day Tea Ritual Challenge. Click here to learn more.)
The more I learned, the more I discovered a world of tea untouched by the average tea drinker.
I found extraordinary teas with flavors opening my eyes to flavorful and unique teas from different areas of the globe.
To broaden your world of teas and sip not only delicious but healthier brews, I’ve curated a collection of 14 teas and tisanes to expand your palette. It comes with a digital booklet for a self-guided tour explaining where these teas are grown and how they’re produced to create their unique flavors.
Just like a fine glass of wine, these teas are meant to please.
Click here to discover a larger world of teas and have a mini-adventure from the comfort of your comfy chair.
Wishing you lots of love and adventure,
Founder & Adventurer
Sicilian Tea Company