Chinese tea

Chinese tea (2)

Chinese teaTea originated from China. It has enjoyed a history of more than 2000 years in its home country and beyond, with many highs and lows. It is a jewel on the crown of Chinese history that has stood the test of time. Its depth is endless, to be explored and enjoyed by an increasing number of tea lovers around the world.

White tea cake and Pu-erh white tea

Pu-erh white tea cakeDuring recent years, the white tea manufacturers have been using exact pu-erh tea’s compressing technics to produce white tea cakes, while pu-erh tea producers have also produced their ‘version’ of white tea cakes, eg Moon Light White (月光白) Silver Needle (大白毫). I have spoken to a pu-erh tea manufacturer, he said he had consulted a tea expert in China and they could not clearly define the difference.

There is an obvious difference here: white tea leaves are of 'small leaf species' of Camellia sinensis while Pu-erh bud leaves belong to the 'big leaf species'. They are different biologically and therefore have rather different nature and path during the aging process.

Over and above this apparent difference, there is also an economic interest behind this overlap.

White teas, being one of the 'small leaf species' of Camellia sinensis, have predominantly been produced and consumed fresh. Similar to their green tea cousins, the bud leaves are considered of the highest quality and their quality hierarchy is ranked based on the quantity of bud leaves contained.

There has been an aged white tea culture in the local tradition (Fu-Ding area of the Fu Jian Province), but mainly for their medicinal properties. White teas have been described as: first year a tea, third year a medicine and after five years they become a (medicinal) treasure. Aged white teas are believed to have profound anti-inflammatory effects and was once used for high temperature relief caused by measles infections before the contemporary medicine.

Pu-erh teas on the other hand, being the 'big leaf species' of Camellia sinensis, are only suitable for consumption after certain level of aging (softening), two years minimum after their harvest for the raw (Sheng) teas. To facilitate the aging process, they have been conventionally compressed into cakes, bricks or Tuo, and normally contain young and mature leaves with some twigs. The most valuable crops are those from the ancient tea tress (most over a few hundred years old), bud leaves, opened leaves and even some young twigs. The focus here is certainly not just the bud leaves.

The traditional Pu-erh tea producers then saw an opportunity: the bud leaves of certain Pu-erh tea trees are not nearly as sought after as the top grade bud only white tea Silver Needle, for example, the cost of the Moon Light White (月光白) bud leaves is only the fraction of the cost of the Silver Needle white tea, but once compressed and aged, is expected to have very similar taste and functionalities as aged white tea if not superior. This somehow marked the birth of the pu-erh tea cakes.

Pu-erh white tea cake is a relatively new product and in my opinion could be a product that is of value for money. This however remains to be judged by time and consumers.

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Various aspects of teas being seasonal

When talk about seasonal tea, people immediately associate it with the teas harvested during the last harvest season.

Seasonal production of the teas

In China, the Qing-Ming ( 清明) season which is normally around the early April is the main season for tea harvesting. The pre-Qing-Ming teas are of higher value as the tea leaves grow in colder weather conditions, taking longer to grow, storing more nutrients with richer flavour. The harvest season can last through May. The later the leaves are harvested, the warmer the weather conditions are and the faster the leaves grow. The teas made of the later leaves are however not as rich and delicate in flavour as the early flushes. Apart from the spring harvest (Qing-Ming harvest), many tea farms also harvest a crop in Autumn. The teas made of the autumn leaves are often not as delicate and refreshing, but may suite certain tea production, such as scented teas, or Oolong teas made of mature leaves.

Seasonal consumption of the teas

There is also another aspect of teas being seasonal that is not talked about as much, which is its consumption. Tea consumption in China is very geographical. The art and history of tea making is finely turned to suite the local diets and climate conditions. The non-fermented green teas and lightly fermented white teas are light and refreshing, much favoured in areas where the weather conditions are warm and humid. The more fermented teas such as black and ripened pu-erh teas on the other hand, are more appreciated in cooler areas where heavier diets are consumed. The fermented teas are smoother in texture and known to aid digestion.

If you however have the luxury to have a collection of teas (like we all do these days), soon you will find that different teas have different best uses: summer teas vs winter teas, morning tea vs afternoon teas, teas to drink after meals vs teas drink between meals, teas to drink with snacks vs teas to drink on their own and many more combinations and occasions.

One thing to remember, teas are to be enjoyed and premium teas are highly enjoyable.

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