Have you heard the legend of how tea drinking was discovered? Supposedly a few leaves from a tea plant fell into a Chinese emperor's pot of boiling water, and he decided to give it a taste. Who knows if that is actually true, but it shows that there is a long history of drinking tea in China and when we visited I couldn’t wait to learn more about it. Oh, and in Chinese the word for tea is “cha.”
What I really wanted to do when we were in China was attend a tea ceremony. You can drink tea just about anywhere, but I wanted to learn about each tea and really appreciate it. Luckily, in Shanghai we found a great one that was well worth it!
I’m used to drinking a big mug of tea in the morning, or a tall glass of iced tea with lunch, but what surprised me the most was at the tea ceremony we drank out of teeny tiny tea cups. The hostess explained that the small cups ensured small sips so you could get the full taste instead of just guzzling it down. We had to also make sure to take a deep breath of the warm steam coming out of our cups to appreciate the rich and unique smell of the tea leaves.
You might be interested to know that there are 4 main types of tea: black, green, white and oolong. All tea comes from the plant species named camellia sinensis. The only difference between the types of tea is how old the leaves are when they're picked, or how soon the plant is processed once picked. White tea, for instance, is made from "tea needles," which are the young tealeaves before they unfold, and it has a more natural "planty" taste, which seems to be why a lot of people don’t like it. Black tea is made from the regular tealeaves but is allowed to sit the longest between the time it is picked and processed. It has the least plant-like taste, but it is the most popular type of tea in the world.
Well, back to the tea ceremony. Just a few small sips emptied the teacup, but the hostess kept refilling out cups, so that by the time we were done, we had all had plenty! I’ve had a lot of tea in my day, but I have to say this was some of the best tea I’ve ever had, and attending a tea ceremony was really a memorable experience.
I'll admit my favorite tea that I had in China was not at a tea ceremony, it was hand rolled jasmine tea I bought at a market. It tasted great, but what I really loved about it was the experience of watching it steep. It was like watching a flower bud open on a summer morning! Watch the video and see what I mean (the video has been sped up so you can see what took 6 minutes in 1 minute).