When it comes to travelling, eating as the locals do provides a vital insight into the wider culture of your chosen destination. Chinese cuisine is particularly diverse, thanks to the country’s vast size and long history. As a traveller to China you’ll be overwhelmed by the choice available, with street vendors, and local restaurants supplying an enormous range of choice. It’s not just the Chinese dining experience that will make an impression on you, it’s the beverages too. Tea is the national drink, and there are numerous benefits associated with drinking Chinese tea. With a history spanning some 5,000 years, Chinese tea drinking isn’t just a custom, it’s an art.
In this blog post, we provide a brief history of Chinese tea to date so you can discover more about the fabulous food and drink you’ll be enjoying on your upcoming trip to China.
The birth of the brew
In Britain, we love a good brew. China is considered the birthplace of the tea we love to drink every day. Tea varieties in China are far more diverse than the choice available at home, and legend has it that it was Emperor Shen Nung’s discovery of tea leaves that started it all. Emperor Shen Nung ruled almost 5,000 years ago, and it is thought that when enjoying a sip of boiling water in his garden, leaves from a wild tree blew into his drink. The combination emitted a lovely aroma so the Emperor decided to taste it and never looked back! He named the drink “ch’a” and the delicious brew has been at the centre of Chinese culture ever since.
Chinese tea goes global
Ever since its discovery, Chinese tea grew in popularity, with the period between the 4th and 8th century cementing its status as China’s national drink. Before this, Chinese tea was used purely for its medicinal qualities. The face of Chinese tea was changing, with the drink enjoyed by people from all walks of life on a daily basis for refreshment and pleasure. As popularity grew, so too did the number of plantations. Tea making was a profitable business, and interest was growing across the globe.
At this point all tea in China was green. The invention of the tea we are more familiar with today didn’t occur until the mid-17th century. The global market demanded a tea variety that kept its flavour and aroma even after long journeys, and with that black tea was born.
Chinese tea drinking and making today
Tea drinking and making has moved on considerably over the years but it’s still just as much a part of Chinese culture as it was thousands of years ago. Experiencing Chinese tea culture on your trip to China is a must, and with thousands of varieties to try you’ll have plenty to keep you occupied. The range available is so diverse that people actually exclusively study tea in China as Coffee Tea Warehouse describes:
“Today, students compete to attend the very selective and exceptional Shanghai Tea Institute. The highest level students are required to play the traditional Guzheng stringed instrument, perform a flawless tea-serving ceremony, speak a foreign language to entertain overseas guests, and distinguish between about 1,000 different types of Chinese tea…to date fewer than 75 students have been awarded a Tea Art certificate. There is also an entire amusement park called the Tenfu Tea Museum – China’s equivalent of Disneyland – that honors the Chinese tea-drinking traditions.”
Want to find the best places to experience Chinese tea drinking? Find out more about the best tea houses in China.