Chiming with Cha

Article by Matthew Green

As a Northern Brit, 10 cups of tea a day is very normal. I mean, it is Yorkshire Tea after all. After moving to China, that amount only increased, given the fact it’s the discovery location of the world’s number one drink. As we all know, the culture of Chinese tea is a mystical beast, which has many different facets such as health benefits, social status, and, most of all, as just a refreshing brew. In this article, it is my aim to shed some light on some of these aspects in order to get some a bit more interested, or maybe just give us an opportunity to escape the local Starbucks.

First and foremost are the health benefits. Sometimes it may seem that the health benefits of certain foods can be blown way out of proportion, as is often the case with various ‘superfoods’. The difference is that the health benefits of local tea does hold some real water (pun intended). These benefits include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic properties; assistance in weight-loss; increased muscle endurance; and help in controlling of blood sugar levels. These benefits have been studied across numerous studies, and while they are not conclusive, there is a general consensus within the scientific community that tea has at least some beneficial effects..

There are six categories of tea, and each one has a different purported benefit – post-fermented tea, the most famous been pu’er, is one of the commonly suggested for weight loss. White tea, which is from the youngest buds of the plant, is drunk in order to help encourage healthy skin. Black tea boasts a large list of benefits but mainly benefits the heart. Black tea comes from the same plant as green tea, but it has undergone fermentation, giving it a deep colour. Oolong tea is somewhere between green and black tea, as it is half-fermented, and hold flavour properties from both. Its health benefits are said to reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes. Yellow tea is more closely related to green tea, but is slightly more aged and is often advised for people who are looking to encourage healthy bones. Finally, is green tea, probably the most famous, which seems to be the jack-of-all-trades, as it covers most of the benefits of the other varieties.

Swiftly moving on, we can start to discuss the culture itself. As mentioned previously, China is the home of tea, dating all the way back to 2737 BC. Shen Nong, a mythical Chinese emperor, was searching for a cure-all herb when one a leaf accidently fell into his boiling water. He drank the resulting brew and felt instantly refreshed.

Now this is just legend, and in terms of solid history, we can actually date the usage of tea back to the Han Dynasty, which began in 206 BC, where we can find evidence of tea containers. By the time of the Tang dynasty, tea was seen as the staple beverage of China. Throughout the years, humans have experimented with and refined the drink. One of the first people to write on the culture of was an eighth century author by the name of Lu Yu- the book was named ‘The Cha Jing’ or ‘The Classic of Tea’.

The ‘The Classic of Tea’ provides the backbone of the modern tea ceremony. The book spreads over ten chapters, from origins to utensils to the actual drinking of the tea, all of which heavily influenced the ritual of tea during its exportation from China to Japan by Buddhist monks. The ceremony itself is linked to weddings, during which the bride will serve tea to her parents, privately, and then the groom and bride will both serve tea to the groom’s parents at the event.

Tea has since become a sign of respect, in that the young should offer their elders tea. This extends to colleagues or business partners, as you can see if you visit any tea shop in the city. The ceremony is, and needs to be, very precise, including attitude, tools, ambiance and the techniques in brewing and serving. These ceremonies have extended further than in the traditional settings and allow the locals to expand their circle of friends. For example, in the Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony, participants are asked to leave all their hang-ups, such as wealth and other dividing factors, at the door.

Wrapping up, Chinese tea is a large part of this greater culture that we live in and should be paid a little more attention. So, if you have 5 minutes in the middle of your day, pop into your local tea house and sit down for a brew and hopefully you will learn more than you have here today. I didn’t do the whole situation justice, but that’s due to the vastness of the topic in which it lies. There’s a rabbit hole of the history, science, and culture to lose yourself in. Or maybe, just maybe, simply have a sip of tea with a new acquaintance, and revel in the experience.

Matthew discovered during his research that the teabag was invented in America during the early twentieth century and become popular due to demand from Britain in the 1970’s.