Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chinese Tea

Think of China and play the word association game – what do you think of first? Most probably: Tea. No other beverage is so connected to its place of origin as Chinese tea. Tea is the most popular beverage in the world (aside from water), followed by coffee and cocoa. China grows, consumes, and exports more tea than any other nation although 90% of the production is still consumed domestically. Good with meals, for health reasons, or simply for pleasure, tea truly is a beverage for all occasions.

LEGENDARY BEGINNINGS
Many stories are woven around the origin of tea. The most persistent one dates back to 2737BC. Then Chinese emperor Shan Nong was known to have his drinking water boiled so that it would be clean. While resting under a wild tea tree, a few leaves accidentally fell into the water, changing the color to a light green/brown. The emperor did not notice the change and drank the brew, and is said to have felt refreshed and energized. Tea has since served many purposes: as ritual offering, eaten as vegetable, used as medicine, and since the days of the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) infused in boiling water. For further study on tea, read up on Lu Yu (733-804AD), the first sage of tea, and his work “The Classic of Tea”. The new beverage arrived in Japan in the sixth century, spread through Asia and the Arabian world, even Africa, before arriving in Europe in the early 17th century.


THE PLANT, GROWING AND HARVESTING
Whether green, black, or white tea, all teas have their origin in the Camellia plant (Camellia Sinensis). The plant grows in bushes and trees, carries thick, dark green leaves with a strong thick stem. Flowers appear in white or pink with delicate fragrance. Tea can be picked from plants that are 5 – 30 years old.
The best growing conditions are in warm and humid mountain regions up to 5,000 feet altitude, with annual rainfall of 2,000 mm.
Harvesting – or picking – of leaves starts in spring and lasts until summer. Only the top layer is picked, one bud and two young leaves. While machines are used in a few places, the best tea is still harvested by hand. The plant produces new growth every 15 days although the first growth (= New tea) is more intense in aroma and flavor.

THE PROCESSING
Only through different methods of processing is the type of tea developed. The most popular tea is Green Tea, produced through a 3-step process which basically reduces moisture from 90% after the harvest to 10% at consumption. The 3 basic steps are as follows:
Drying/Withering:        
Leaves are spread out on wire grids to extract moisture, sometimes supported by blowing currents of hot air over them, reducing moisture by up to 60%

Rolling
The leaves are broken and turned to that liquids can be released, and to allow fermentation and oxidation (see below).
Crushing & Sifting
At this point, the tea leaves are crushed into small particles, aired, and cooled down.

Ready for consumption!

All other types of tea add one more step: ‘Fermentation’. The word actually is incorrect in regards to tea since it actually means Enzymatic Oxidation (= browning) referring to the time dried leaves are left in contact with air. The longer the oxidation time, the darker the tea. Teas are classified based on the techniques with which they are produced and processed:
Green Tea - unwilted and unoxidized
Yellow Tea – unwilted and unoxidized but allowed to yellow
White Tea – wilted and unoxidized
Oolong Tea – wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized
Black Tea – wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized
Post-fermented Teas – Green Tea that has been allowed to ferment

ENJOYING TEA
Well, it could be as easy as using hot tap water or maybe microwave a cup of water, throwing in a tea bag, - and you are done! If that does it for you, go for it!
If you want to have the full tea drinking experience, select loose leaf tea, usually it’s better quality. When selecting tea leaves, go for larger leaves, they are said to be more flavorful.
Brewing water – an easy task? No, of course not! Take bottled water over tap water, heat it up in a kettle, and wait for the first signs of bubbles to come to the surface. Then warm up the tea pot or cup first by swirling some boiling water in it and discard.
How much tea? The general guideline is a well-rounded teaspoon for each 8 ounce cup plus one for the pot. Add the loose-leaf tea either at the bottom of your pot or to the infuser. Then pour the boiling water over the tea (Green Tea: wait for 2-3 minutes before pouring water). Let the tea sit for 3 – 5 minutes (less for lighter colored teas, more for darker ones). Now it’s – finally – time to enjoy your cup of tea!

MEDICINAL BENEFITS
Tea contains catechins (a type of antioxidant), best in white and green tea. Thiamine and caffeine are also present but in very small dose. While the actual medicinal benefits of tea are still somehow controversial, some studies suggest tea may
- possess antibiotic effects
- protect against certain cancers including lung, prostate, and breast cancer
- increase metabolism
- help prevent diabetes
- boost mental alertness
- boost the immune system
- lower stress
- prevent strokes
        
THE BEST TEA
It certainly is up to you to try as many teas as possible, and some researchers have counted more than 1,000 types of tea. One tea is considered the national beverage of China and presented to all official visitors: It’s Dragon Well (Longjing) Tea from Hangzhou in Zheijang Province.  Try it when you visit the next time!


TRAVEL NEWS FROM CHINA:

News for Panda Lovers - Too much contact with visitors  led to some pandas getting sick, so the famous Breeding and Research Center in Chengdu decided to change policies and not allow visitors to hold pandas anymore.

New Standard for Yangtze Cruises - On April 8, the new 5-star 'President Prime' set sail for its maiden voyage on the Yangtze River. Unlike other river cruise ships, the new luxury ship offers almost 200 suites, all with balcony, and each suite is equipped with all modern amenities including A/C, satellite TV, refrigerator, and much more.

Shanghai Underground Theater to open - The world's largest and deepest (up to 65 feet underground) theater with a seat capacity of 2,000 is set to open in July with a debut play of "Perfect Broadway". Built over 4 years and at a cost of $170 mio, the Shanghai Underground Cultural Plaza Theater will be one of the top three performance venues in Shanghai, with Shanghai Grand Theater and Shanghai Concert Hall.

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