Legend has it that Emperor Shen Nung was strolling through his garden, drinking his usual cup of boiled water, when a leaf from a nearby bush fell into this cup. This was in 2737 B.C. He was not only pleased with its taste but with early knowledge of herbal medicine, soon declared it to be medicinal drink.
In the sixteenth century B.C., the Taoist philosopher Lao-tzu also mentions tea in his great travels. It is a fact that by 500 B.C., the people of Asia were drinking tea. The first tea practices were primitive - boiling raw green leaves in water - resulting, no doubt in a bitter, nasty tasting drink. Although some historians credit Confucius as the father of tea, it is probably more accurate to say that he furthered hygiene and prevented the spread of disease by advocating the virtues of tea when steeped in boiled water.
Soon, however, the Chinese began cultivating the tea plant, stripping the leaves without killing the entire plant, and produced a pleasant tasting product. Decades went by until the next innovation - pressing the leaves into cakes, which were then roasted, pounded and finally broken into small pieces for infusion. This led naturally to the production of bricks of tea, which were used as currency. Tea commerce had now begun.
In 780 A.D., the Chinese began taxing tea, thus creating a revenue base. Over the next several centuries, tea was celebrated in the Song Dynasty and the Ming Dynasty and black, green and oolong teas became popular with royalty and commoners alike. The Chinese character for Tea was created around the 8th century.
At the dawn of the 17th century, tea was introduced in the West. Chinese tea (bought in Japan), was carried by Dutch East India Company trade ships to Europe. This began the great expansion of tea into the new world. Today, China remains one of the largest producers of tea in the world, producing a remarkable variety of teas - black, green, oolong, jasmine, smoked and flowering teas.
Here are some broad groupings – try them all – the diversity, versatility and taste will astound you:
CHINA BLACK TEA
The two best known are Keemun and Yunnan. Yunnans are more similar to malty, rich Assam teas and premium grades carry a lingering chocolate note. Keemuns were the original base for English Breakfast teas are not quite as robust in the cup. We carry a wide range of both including fancy styles such as Red Mudan which is a high-grade Keemun tied into a rosette.
CHINA GREEN TEA
The range of tastes in this category is infinite. For first-time green tea drinkers, start with the mellow tastes of a Gunpowder and then work your way through pleasantly balanced Greens such as Green Dew or Mao Feng. We offer both conventional and organic. China Greens can be mild, smoky, grassy, fruity, sweet or strong. Be bold in your choices – you will be delighted.
CHINA OOLONG TEA
A world of amazement awaits those in search of a good Oolong. These can range from lightly oxidized to dark and smoky. Leaf styles can be rolled or long and curly, resembling a dragon, thus explaining the word Oolong, ‘black dragon’. Our lightest China Oolong is Goddess of Mercy while our darkest one is Wu Yi which is smoky. Oolongs can be light, fruity, fragrant, naturally smoky or mellow. Read our descriptions and try them yourself. Multiple infusions bring out the very best of every grade.
CHINA WHITE TEA
White teas are prized in China for their cooling properties. They are delicate teas with a subtle woodsy flavor. The highest grade is Yin Zhen or Silver Needle with the next grade down being the well-known White Peony or Bai Mu Dan. They form a good base for fruity flavors and our bestseller is Moonlight & Melon.