Tea drinking has always been a prevalent culture in China, dating back thousands of years. It should be no surprise, tea originated here in China – legend has it that it was originally consumed for its medicinal qualities – but it has long since become a vital part in Chinese culture and life.
Introduction To Chinese Tea Culture
Since ancient China, serving tea is a form of respect. People of lower rank will serve tea to those who are higher ranked. Now, younger generations will offer their elderlies tea as a form of respect. But as society becomes more casual in recent years, this is no longer always the case, but is still regarded in many circles as the proper etiquette.
Tea preparation is like a form of art with intricate procedures to master. Some factors to take note will be the tea to water ratio, temperature and quality of water used and the duration where the tea leaves are submerged in the water. All of which can affect the taste and quality of the tea brewed.
There are many kinds of tea in China and they all taste entirely different from each other. With that said, here are 3 popular teas to sample in China.
White Tea (白茶)
Known as the perfect tea for both experienced and beginner tea drinkers, the White tea has a mild fruity flavour which resembles light notes of cucumber and melon. Even though White Tea is considered to have the simplest process of processing the tea leaves, it’s one of the most difficult to master.
White tea goes through the process of harvesting, withering and finally drying. Farmers first harvest unopened buds and leaves then place them under the shade to wither and lose moisture. Finally, the tea leaves and buds will be put under the sun to dry and ferment. If the moisture in the tea leaves are high, they might turn red after being under the hot sun which gives a sweet taste that is not desired in tea.
Tie Guan Yin
Tie Guan Yin is a type of premium Chinese Oolong tea which resembles the shape of peach leaves. It has hints of caramel and chestnut with a strong aroma that’s usually described as orchids! The fragrance is so strong that it remains the same even after being brewed several times.
The tea is popular among the Chinese due to it being rich in antioxidants, vitamins and amino acids. It’s said that Tie Guan Yin will help with boosting of energy, improving skin, losing weight and aiding in digestion!
Just like red wine, the taste of Pu Er develops when aged! This unique tea is intended to be savored like fine wine and even has a robust earthy taste. Pu Er generally tastes exquisite but it can also taste mouldy if the tea leaves are of poor quality. To make sure that you do not drink bad quality Pu Er, take a whiff of the tea before drinking. If it smells like fish or mould, the tea is best to be avoided. Good quality Pu er should give out a sweet and earthy aroma which resembles dried fruits or a forest!
As Pu Er is made from natural fermentation, the process oxidises the plant leaves which amplifies its antioxidant benefits. It is believed to have many benefits such as helping with digestion, reduce toxins, reduce stress, improve sleep and lower cholesterol sugar.
Shanghai Tea Market
Tianshan Tea City (天山茶城)
Tianshan Tea City is a multi-level complex that solely sells tea and tea equipment. It’s as though visitors have wandered into tea heaven! The exterior of the building looks like something from ancient China. Even its entrance is uniquely designed to resemble a temple! Visitors can find master tea drinkers and novices alike mingling in the dimly lit complex.
As Tianshan has over 150 stalls, it’s the best location in Shanghai to purchase and learn about tea. There are also stores selling tea making equipment for you to buy and practice making Chinese tea at home!
Even shopping for tea may seem intimidating, many shop owners in Tianshan are able to speak English and are hospitable to foreigners. A store that offers good quality tea would be shop number 1057. The staff lets visitors taste different types of the same tea before purchasing. Snacks are served as well to go with the tea! Visitors can find packaged tea that is good for gift giving as well as tea cakes in the store.
Address: 520 Zhongshan West Road, near Yuping Road
Telephone: +86 21 6259 9999
Laoximen Tea Plaza (老西门古玩茶城)
Another great tea market to explore will be the Laoximen Tea City. Opened by a few vendors from Tianshan, the Laoximen Tea City has a more modern and brighter interior than Tianshan. Similarly to Tianshan, Laoximen Tea City sells a variety of high-quality tea leaves and products such as tea sets.
However, Laoximen does not only sell tea-related products. Visitors can also find calligraphy, ceramics and jewellery in the complex! Anyhow, it’s best to know basic Chinese before heading to Laoximen as the vendors there usually don’t know English.
Address:1121 Fuxing E Rd, Laoximen, Huangpu, Shanghai, China
Telephone: +86 21 5386 5555
Recommend places to drink tea
Mid Lake Pavilion Tea House
Situated beside the serene Yuyuan Garden lies the oldest tea house in Shanghai – Mid Lake Pavilion Tea House. The beauty of the ancient architecture is unparalleled as it’s adorned with intricate Chinese patterns and colors such as red and brown. As if lost in time, the interior of the teahouse remains lost in time with its antique furnishing.
Built during 1855, the famous teahouse has been visited by public figures such as Bill Clinton and Queen Elizabeth II. The teahouse can be found in the middle of a lake and is only accessible using a zig-zag pathway. Other than being aesthetically pleasing, the design of the pathway is also believed to ward off evil spirits.
Despite being a tourist attraction, the tea that’s served in Mid Lake Pavilion Tea House does not disappoint. Using only pure mineral water, their tea gives out a strong aroma and great flavour. There’s also snacks served as accompaniments with the drinks. With such a unique atmosphere, it’s no wonder visitors will fork out extra time just to drink tea in Mid Lake Pavilion Tea House.
Address: 257, Yuyuan Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai
21st-Century Tea Houses
If you are not keen on drinking tea in a traditional setting, head to a 21st-century tea house for a more modern experience. 21st-century tea houses are mostly created to retain the culture of drinking tea among the younger generations by making tea drinking ‘hipster’. These tea houses usually have an instagramable interior and unique tea concoctions.
One such tea house would be Zee Tea that reimagines tea drinking to suit the palettes of the millennials. They serve tea ice cream, cold brew oolong tea and even tea infused with alcohol! Customers can also find desserts made from tea that’s displayed in glass cases. Its interior is so Instagramable that it’s no surprise that many young people will be taking pictures.
Address: Jìng’an – 74 Tongren Rd | 铜仁路74号
Recommend Tea workshop
Wan Ling Tea House Workshop
To fully understand the tea culture in China, it’s highly recommended to attend a tea workshop. Wan Ling Tea House workshop provides a calming and relaxing space for their guests, making it the best environment for total beginners to learn tea in. The peacefulness of the environment allows guests to better soak in Chinese tea culture.
There are 3 different types of workshops, the tea tasting workshop, traditional chinese tea ceremony and a hands on experience on preparing chinese tea. For the tea tasting workshop, Wan Ling will present to guests 2-3 types of tea to sample while providing them with a comprehensive timeline of where the tea came from. She will be elaborating on the journey of the tea leaves from its harvest to their cups.
The traditional Chinese tea ceremony will show guests that tea making in itself is a form of art. The tea ceremony aims to bring out the best of the tea leaf while mesmerizing guests from the performer’s graceful movements. After the session, guests will be filled with the knowledge on the benefits of enjoying tea.
For a more hands on experience, opt for the tea workshop itself. This workshop is where guests are able to learn to wash, prepare and serve tea the right ways. It’s customizable to suit the needs of guests and is eligible for all skill levels!
With such insightful and healing experiences, it’ll be in no time that guests will be able to share their newfound knowledge about tea with vigour!