Origins

My friend Jean wanted to know more about the history behind the different types of teas. There are actually quite a lot of versions to these historical accounts, but I chose what I deemed the most probable/interesting.

Green: Green tea is regarded as the first type of tea to have come about. There are records from the 4th and 5th centuries of Chinese steaming tea leaves and compressing them into cakes. Steaming tea leaves to become green tea became the de facto method of tea production during the Tang Dynasty. Later on, other green tea processes came about such as pan-frying came about. The traditional Japanese green tea powder, matcha, actually originates from the Chinese. However, a certain Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) decided to ban powdered tea and that is why most Chinese green tea is in loose leaf form or cake form today.

White: While white tea has seemingly only become more popular in the past decade, it actually was quite a hit back with Chinese royalty in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) where white tea came in cake and powder forms and was claimed as the best tea around by Emperor Hui Zhong. The first record of white tea production was during the earlier Tang dynasty  (618 – 907 AD), the renaissance period for Chinese tea production. But for the kind of white tea you might be used to drinking e.g. Silver Needle and White Peony, that processing method  came about only during the Qing dynasty in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Black: Not much information about its origins – except that yes, it did come from China and yes, it was being sold by the 16th century. The Jiang family in Tong Mu Village, Wuyi Mountains claim their ancestors are the ones who creatively came up with black tea. Soldiers had occupied their village one 16th century day, and the peasant farmers were cut off from processing a freshly plucked crop of tea. Instead, the soldiers used the piles of soft tea leaves as their beds, and when they left a week later, they left a pile of blackened, twisted oxidized leaves. The villagers, in a bid to salvage their losses, sent the leaves for drying anyway and tried to sell them in the market. This blackened tea prove to be a big hit with foreign merchants and black tea soon became the popular tea to export from China.

Oolong: Apparently, the semi-oxidised method of processing tea originated from the Wuyi mountains in Fujian province and hence it derived part of its name from it. But I much prefer this popular legend: one day, a tea plantation owner was scared away from his drying tea leaves by the appearance of a black serpent. When he cautiously returned several days later, the leaves had been partially oxidized by the sun and gave a delightful brew.He called the tea ‘oolong’ as that means ‘black dragon’ in Chinese.

Pu-erh: Historical records indicate that pu-erh was served as a tribute tea to the Emperor all the way back to the Eastern Han dynasty (25 -220 AD) and even used as a form of currency. It was and is still regarded as a medicinal tea because of its microbes and its unique fermented processing method originated in Yunnan. Up till today, the best pu-erh comes from there. Its name originates from the Pu-erh prefecture in Yunnan province, where pu-erh tea was commonly sold.

If you have any other historical nugget to add, please feel to share them!

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