Chinese Tea — Origin, Culture, Art, Utensil, Function, and Classification

Chinese Tea Culture

What is the history of Chinese Tea?


Tea originated in China around 5000 to 6000 years ago and had been served mainly two functions: sacrifice offerings in grand ceremonies and medicine to detoxify or cure certain diseases. 


Later in Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 771 BC), tea was an important tribute to offer to kings and became popular among royals. 


Till the Sui Dynasty (581 — 618), tea had already come to and popularized in the civilians' world. 

Extant Earliest Tea Leaf, Unearthed from the Mausoleum of Emperor Jing of Han (188 BC — 141 BC)

Extant Earliest Tea Leaf, Unearthed from the Mausoleum of Emperor Jing of Han (188 BC — 141 BC) — Hanyangling Museum


Who is the Sage of Tea in Chinese Culture?


Lu Yu (about 733 — 840), respected as Sage of Tea or God of Tea, finished "The Classic of Tea", an important encyclopedia of Chinese tea that formed the comprehensive tea culture.


In this masterpiece, Lu Yu included tea's history, function, classification, cultivation, production, cooking method, utensil, ceremony, custom, story, and so on. 


Afterward, tea has been one of the most important drinks in Chinese culture.

White Glaze Figurine of Northern Song Dynasty (960 — 1127), Believed as Lu Yu the Sage of Tea

White Glaze Figurine of Northern Song Dynasty (960 — 1127), Believed as Lu Yu the Sage of Tea — Capital Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)


What is the Chinese Tea Culture?


Chinese tea culture includes everything about tea: planting and producing, ceremony and etiquette, morale, utensil, story, tea art, customs, and so on.

It can be extremely complicated and exquisite, or quite plain and simple.

We can find Chinese tea culture from ancient tea books, poems, artifacts, and paintings, as well as from beautiful tea plantations, and everyone’s teacups.

People are culture.

Hence, whatever, however, and wherever they drink, expensive or cheap tea leaves, fancy or simple tea sets, in a fabulous room or just sitting on the roadside, are all important parts of the Chinese Tea Culture. 

In the Painting "Wen Hui Tu" by Emperor Zhao Ji (1082 — 1135), People Are Making and Drinking Tea

In the Painting "Wen Hui Tu" by Emperor Zhao Ji (1082 — 1135), People Are Making and Drinking Tea — Taipei Palace Museum


Why tea is important in big events such as the Chinese weddings?

Tea trees can only grow from seeds, and cannot be transplanted, which made it the representative of eternal loyalty.

Also, tea is the symbol of elegance, politeness, harmony, persistence, and modesty in Chinese culture.

Therefore, from royals to civilians, tea has been served as the tribute, reward, betrothal presents, as well as an important drink in nearly all important ceremonies and activities, such as the Coming of Age and Traditional Chinese Wedding


What is the best water to make Chinese tea?


According to The Classic of Tea, water from a spring of mountains is the best, from a river is the second-best, and well water is the worst.

Collecting pure dew, rain, and snow that didn't drop on the ground, are popular water to make tea as well. 


What are the main functions of Chinese tea?

Different types of teas can:

Refresh oneself, lose weight, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, detoxification, aid digestion, anti-aging, ease pressure, and anxiety, strengthen immunity, stimulate metabolism, cure certain diseases, and so on. 


When, and who are not suitable to drink tea? 

  • People with an empty stomach, such as before dinner

  • Right after eating meals

  • During the period of taking medications 

  • Women on their periods or pregnant

  • Before sleep

  • After drinking alcohol

  • People with Panasthenia, Iron-deficiency Anemia, Liver Dysfunction, Heart Diseases, Gastric Ulcer, Fever, etc.

  • Do not drink overnight tea, nor very strong tea


What are the important tea utensils?

Tea-Making Utensils of Tang Dynasty (618 — 907), Unearthed From Famen Temple

Utensils to Drink Tea in History of China, Photo by Dongmaiying.


Main Classifications of Chinese Tea

Based on the fermentation degree, Chinese tea is divided into six groups: Green Tea, White Tea, Yellow Tea, Oolong Tea, Black Tea, and Dark Tea.


Besides these six main types are Reprocessed Tea, such as Scented Tea. 

Six Main Types of Chinese Tea

Green Tea

Green tea is the most productive and common type in China, which doesn’t need fermentation in the making process. Hence, it contains the most Tea Polyphenol.

It is good for reducing radiation, inflammation, keeping fit, anti-aging and improving digestion, etc. However, it is not suitable for neurasthenic people. 

Chinese Tea - Green Tea

White Tea

White Tea is a special type in China, which has the most natural, simplest making process, and slightest fermentation degree.

It is believed good for balancing blood sugar, promoting metabolism, breaking down fats, and protecting the eyes and liver. 

Chinese Tea - White Tea

Yellow Tea

Yellow Tea is slightly more fermented than White Tea and is believed good for digesting, preventing cancer, sterilizing, and anti-inflammation.

For people with dyspepsia, dyspepsia, and adiposity, Yellow Tea is a perfect choice.

Chinese Tea - Yellow Tea

Oolong Tea

Oolong Tea is half fermented, whose leaf is green in the middle and red at the edge.

It has the best effect on losing weight among all types of teas, which is also good for reducing blood pressure and cholesterol level, digesting, refreshing, anti dysentery, etc.

Chinese Tea - Oolong Tea

Black Tea

Black Tea needs long fermentation in the making process, whose leaf and water are all red; so in Chinese, it is named the Red Tea.

Black Tea is believed good for digesting, warming the stomach, and allaying fatigue.

Chinese Tea - Black Tea

Dark Tea

Dark Tea has the highest fermentation degree and is especially popular among people in northern China, where the main food is lamb, beef, and other types of red meat.

Dark tea is very good for digesting, eliminating oil and fat in one's body, reducing cholesterol levels, decreasing blood sugar and blood pressure, antioxidants, and anti-aging. 

Chinese Tea - Dark Tea

Scented Tea

Scented Teas are made out of tea leaves (usually Green Tea or Black Tea) with flowers or fruits. 

Special techniques are used to mix tea leaves with flowers or fruits, whose scents would be absorbed, and combined perfectly.

There are many types of combinations of Scented Teas, whose products can be tea leaf, flower, fruit, a mix of leaf and flower, or a mix of fruits.

Some common ingredients that are used to make Scented Teas are rose, osmanthus, jasmine, lily, chrysanthemums, honeysuckle, violet, lavender, lotus leaf, lemon, haw, fig, momordica grosvenor, etc. 

Chinese Tea - Scented Tea

What is the Seasonal Drinking of Tea?

According to the climate and characteristics of different teas, it is believed that every season has the most suitable tea to drink: