Being the undisputed home of tea, the Chinese way of tea production, serving, and drinking has always been something to admire. Unsurprisingly, tea is always present at any Chinese restaurant.
But what teas are served in Chinese restaurants? The most common types of teas served in Chinese restaurants are green tea, oolong tea, jasmine tea, Pu’er, and blended teas. White and black Chinese teas are other popular tea varieties widely served in China.
This article is all about Chinese tea and what makes it special. Read on to learn the main categories of Chinese tea, what they taste like, and how a traditional Chinese tea brewing session goes.
The Importance Of Tea In Chinese Culture
When talking about Chinese culture, it is hard to not talk about tea.
Tea was first used by the Chinese as medicine. The usage of tea for health benefits dates back to 206 BCE when China was ruled by the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). The popularity of tea spread in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE).
Since then, tea culture has spread in all provinces of China.
Many factors have contributed to the growing popularity of tea and its importance in Chinese culture, including the ideal climate for growing tea trees, and people’s findings of how good the drink is for health.
In China, tea is not only an inseparable part of daily life; it is also a part and a major influence on Chinese arts, literature, philosophy, and even the economy.
What Is Chinese Tea?
It is important to understand that all types of Chinese tea come from the same plant—Camellia Sinensis bush.
What results in the wide variety of Chinese tea is the different production and manufacturing methods used by the Chinese as well as at what stage the leaves are collected.
Types Of Chinese Tea
There are hundreds of Chinese teas you can try. However, they are classified into a few main categories.
The classification of Chinese teas into these five categories is based on the level of oxidation.
- White tea
- Green tea
- Oolong tea
- Black tea
- Pu’er tea
White tea doesn’t undergo any fermentation. Green and oolong teas are fermented, the latter undergoing a stronger process of oxidation. This is the reason why oolong tea is often called half-fermented.
Black tea is fully fermented. This is why it has a stronger flavor in comparison to other Chinese teas. Pu’er tea is another well-known type of tea in China. It is considered to be post-fermented.
To make Pu’er tea, tea leaves are fermented for several months after which they are pressed into blocks of different shapes and sizes. You may come across Pu’er teas that are over five decades old.
There is also another group of Chinese teas that many people distinguish as a separate tea category. It’s the blended teas.
These are the teas that the Chinese make by mixing different types of teas, such as green, white, or oolong, with various flowers and petals. Such teas are popular in China too.
What Is The Difference Between English Tea And Chinese tea?
When it comes to tea, England is another country closely associated with the culture of drinking tea. So, a popular question is, what is the difference between English and Chinese tea?
The most evident differences are the ones in the tea sets and the brewing methods used for Chinese and English teas. A Chinese tea set includes ceramic products and the teacups are smaller and don’t have handles.
A big difference lies in the types of teas. As we have mentioned earlier in this article, Chinese teas have a few categories depending on the level of tea leaves’ fermentation.
English tea, on the other hand, is mostly single or multiple-origin black teas. Fruit teas and the classic Earl Grey tea, which has a black tea base, are also popular in England.
Also, Chinese tea is almost always loose leaf tea as they don’t appreciate bagged tea in China. English tea, on the other, is popular in the bagged form too.
What Are The Benefits Of Chinese Tea?
Aside from being flavorful and each having a unique flavor profile, all Chinese teas have a number of health benefits. Here are some of them.
- Anti-inflammatory properties. Chinese teas are high in polyphenols. These compounds have powerful antioxidant properties. They can help your body fight against inflammation and free radicals.
- Cancer protection. The most efficient way of avoiding different types of cancer is to include foods and drinks in your diet that are high in antioxidants. If you don’t eat such foods in the needed amount to stay away from calories, you can certainly start drinking more Chinese tea instead.
- Improved heart health. The polyphenols in Chinese tea are effective in reducing hypertension, and improving cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Drinking a cup of Chinese tea a day is a pleasant way to work for reducing heart stroke risks and improving overall heart health.
- Better muscle endurance. You can make Chinese green tea your next pre-workout drink. A cup of this tea will give you enough energy for longer workouts.
Why Do Chinese Restaurants Serve Tea With Meals?
Depending on where you live, it may be surprising for you to have tea served with all your meals. In China, however, sipping hot tea while eating is a common practice.
There are a few reasons why the Chinese drink tea with meals. First, it eases digestion. The Chinese find sipping hot tea while eating to be an effective way to break down the food and improve digestion.
Secondly, tea prevents overeating. You are likely to feel full sooner if you drink green tea with your meal.
While some experts recommend not to drink tea before, during, and immediately after your meals, it is a popular practice in Chine to drink plain unsweetened green tea with meals.
Doing this makes you feel full sooner, preventing you from overeating.
Another reason why you may want to drink tea with your meals too is that tea is a great palate cleanser.
A light-brewed tea that doesn’t have a strong aftertaste, such as green tea, can be drunk in between different dishes to prepare your palate for the next course.
So, if you are surprised at the fact that Chinese drink tea with their meals, try it yourself. You may like it.
What Teas Are Served In Chinese Restaurants?
When attending a tea ceremony in China, you may get served a variety of Chinese teas. Most likely the host may serve you one of each category of the most popular Chinese teas.
Here are some of the most popular teas served in Chinese restaurants:
Green tea is perhaps the most popular type of tea in China. And it has become largely popular in different parts of the world.
So, if you are at a Chinese restaurant or attending a Chinese tea ceremony, you will most like get the chance to indulge in a cup of flavorful Chinese green tea.
Chinese green tea has a very light color. It is only darker than white or yellow Chinese teas.
Chinese green tea is described to have sweet and grassy notes. Some people say that the grassy flavor of green tea reminds them of green vegetables.
In any case, Chinese green tea is quite mellow when it comes to its flavor. It is a great tea to start drinking if strong-tasting teas are not something you like.
Although it is good to note that you may not fall in love with the flavor of green tea right away. It may you a few tea-drinking sessions until you fully assess and start liking traditional Chinese green tea.
Oolong tea undergoes stronger fermentation than green tea. It is a famous Chinese tea variety that you should give a try if you happen to be at a Chinese restaurant.
The flavor profile of oolong tea can be described as floral and fruity. While some people say it tastes like green tea, this shouldn’t be the case with real oolong tea.
It is more likely for oolong tea to taste like black tea if it has been heavily oxidized.
With a thick mouthfeel, the color of oolong tea may range from bright green to yellow, and from golden to brown. This tea has an enticingly sweet aroma.
Jasmine tea is another popular tea served in Chinese restaurants. What makes it different from other teas included in this list is the fact that it is not entirely made of Camellia Sinensis leaves.
It is a mixture of green or white tea and jasmine flowers.
Jasmine tea often has a white or green tea base as it needs a softer base to showcase the flavor and the taste of the jasmine flower.
Jasmine tea is floral. Some people describe it to be perfumey as the jasmine aroma can be overpowering if the flower is left in the tea.
Pu’er tea, also known as Pu-erh, is a dark Chinese tea variety. It has been traditionally produced in the Yunnan province of China.
As this tea comes in well-pressed cakes, you will see the person conducting the tea ceremony breaking some of its leaves apart with a tea pick.
There are two types of Pu’er tea. You may be served raw Pu’er tea and ripe Pu’er tea. There are a few differences between these two post-fermented tea varieties.
Raw and ripe Pu’er teas are processed differently.
While the initial processing steps are the same for all types of Pu’er teas, including harvesting the leaves, withering, pan-frying, rolling, and drying, the final stage is what decides whether it is raw or ripe Pu’er.
Raw or green Pu’er is pressed into blocks or cakes after these steps and then aged in a humid environment. This stage may take as long as 5 decades though aging the tea for several months is a common practice too.
Ripe Pu’er goes through a process of fast aging. Tea manufacturers pile the leaves together, wet them, and let them ferment for around a month. After this, the leaves are pressed into cakes and dried.
Also, there is a difference between the flavor profiles.
Raw Pu’er may have flavors ranging from grassy and floral to bitter depending on how old it has been aged for. The flavor profile of ripe Pu’er comes closer to the flavor of long-aged raw Pu’er.
You may also be served blended teas in Chinese restaurants. And they will be different in each as most restaurants make and serve specialty blended teas.
These teas may be a mix of green, white, oolong, and black teas. They may contain various flowers and petals.
Depending on the types of teas blended, the flavor of the tea soup will certainly differ. A blend of green and black teas, for example, yields a drink that has a well-rounded earthy flavor and a light floral aftertaste thanks to the green tea.
If you are familiar with the flavor profiles of Chinese teas, you may try guessing what teas and flowers the particular blend contains.
How Do You Brew Chinese Tea?
If you are used to brewing tea that comes in tea bags, the Chinese way of brewing tea will surely leave you impressed.
Traditional Chinese tea ceremonies are held in China for weddings, hostings guests, and other formal occasions.
But this doesn’t mean you can’t brew your Chinese tea the right way too. If you decide to do this, make sure to collect all the tools needed for the ceremony.
The easiest way to gather everything you need for brewing Chinese tea is by buying a set.
A full set of tools needed for brewing Chinese tea typically includes a teapot, tea strainer, tea pitcher, brewing tray, bowl, tea towel, Chines tea leaves, tea pick for certain teas, and tongs.
You will also need a kettle and water, of course!
How To Brew Chinese Tea
Here is the process of brewing Chinese tea step by step:
- Prepare the tea set by rushing boiling water of the teacups and the teapot. Doing this not only warms up the set, and helps keep an even temperature within the teapot.
- Transfer the tea leaves into the teapot using a tea leaf holder if you have one. The amount of tea leaves you use depends on how strong you like your tea to be as well as how much water you are using.
- Heat the water. It is important to know the correct brewing temperature for the particular tea variety you are brewing.
- Pour hot water into the pot. Let the tea brew for around 5 minutes. The longer your brew it the stronger will the tea be.
- Pour the brewed tea into the tea pitcher. This is done to ensure that the tea tastes the same to all guests.
- Next, pour the tea from the pitcher into the narrow snifter cups. If you don’t have these cups, you can pour it directly into the teacup of each guest.
- If you are the one drinking the tea, take a moment to appreciate its color and aroma before you taste it.