clears the palate, aids in digestion,
soothes, uplifts, and refreshes."
Some 2000 years after the advent of wine, the delights of drinking
tea (cha) were introduced in China during the Tang dynasty (AD 618-907).
However, tea had been mentioned under a different name in Chinese
literature as early as the Three Kingdoms (AD 220-265). But we mostly
see its growth in popularity during the Sung (AD 960-1206) and the
Mongol Yuan (AD 1271-1368) dynasties. An historical oddity is that
Marco Polo never wrote about tea during his visit to China in 1275.
So it is assumed that the Mongol leader Kublai Khan did not drink
tea. Thus it took another 325 years for tea to reach Europe.
The preparation of tea underwent a number of changes over
the centuries. The original method, as proposed by Lu Yu in his
classic work Cha Ching (AD 780), was to boil tea leaves that had
been pressed into cakes or bricks. The more Buddhist-oriented Sung
beat powdered tea into hot water to create a froth. It wasn't until
the early Ming dynasty (AD 1368-1644) that loose tea leaves were
steeped in a pot or cup.
Tea grows abundantly all over China, and is generally categorized
into three types: unfermented, fermented, and semi-fermented.
Unfermented tea, or green tea, is sun-dried and roasted immediately
after picking. The refreshing, delicate flavor of green tea is most
often enjoyed in such teas as Dragon Well (lung Ching), Gunpowder,
Lu An, Chrysanthemum (scented with Chrysanthemum blossoms), and
the ever-popular Jasmine (also made with an Oolong base).
Fermented tea, or black tea, named for its black leaves (called
red tea by Chinese for the red color the leaves impart), is full-bodied
due to the fermentation of the leaves before roasting. Some of the
black teas include Keemun, perhaps the most famous tea and the precursor
to English Breakfast tea; Lapsang Souchong, a smoky-flavored tea;
and Lychee (scented with the lychee fruit).
The semi-fermented tea capture the best characteristics of
both the green and black teas. Oolong (Black Dragon) is the most
popular in China and abroad. Ti Kuan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy)
from the Fujian province also falls into this category.
According to Chinese history, the use of the tea pot was
not introduced until the Ming dynasty. Traditionally, the same pot
is used over and over again for each type of tea. Pots are never
washed, only rinsed, so as to retain the tea's flavor. Very old
pots are said to have so much flavor that tea can be made in them
without any leaves. The finest Chinese tea sets and pots are small,
delicate, and exquisitely detailed works of art collected by many.
To brew tea at home, here are some tips to follow: Tea should
be brewed in earthenware, porcelain, or glass, and never in metal
pots. First, rinse the pot with boiling water to heat it. Pour out
the water and add one teaspoon of tea leaves per measuring cup of
water. The water for the tea should be heated to just below boiling
and poured over the tea leaves rather than adding the leaves to
the hot water. Allow the tea to steep 3 to 5 minutes before serving.
These same leaves can be used for a second pot of tea by simply
adding more hot water.
Tea clears the palate, aids in digestion, soothes, uplifts,
and refreshes. It is the one beverage you can't go wrong with when
serving the flavors of China.
Chinese Chef (KQED Books)
Copyright Yan Can Cook, Inc. 1985
this book and other
cookbooks from Martin's official online store and Martin will
send it to you autographed!