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Tea Culture

Updated:2008-06-04 19:18 | Source:discoverhongkong.com

Yum cha ("drinking tea") is an integral part of Hong Kong's culinary culture.

A cup of steaming fresh tea is the perfect complement to every sumptuous dish. As any tea lover will tell you, the traditional drink - whether Chinese, English or Hong Kong-style – sends forth its unique, delicate fragrances to help shape daily life in Hong Kong.

The ritual of thanking someone in the traditional Chinese-style yum cha has much historical significance. When you see tea-drinkers tapping the table with three fingers of the same hand, it is a silent expression of gratitude to the member of the party who has refilled their cup. The gesture recreates a tale of Imperial obeisance. It can be traced to a Qing Dynasty emperor who used to travel incognito. While visiting South China, he once went into a teahouse with his companions. In order to preserve his anonymity, he took his turn at pouring tea. His shocked companions wanted to kowtow for the great honour. Instead of allowing them to reveal his identity, the emperor told them to tap two fingers on the table. One finger represented their bowed head and the other represented their prostrate arms.

Chinese Tea

History

Tea has formed the essence of Chinese social life and culture for over five millennia.

According to legend, tea was discovered by chance by Emperor Shen Nong during the Five Rulers Era. Leaves from a nearby plant fell into a boiling kettle and the aroma of the brew was so enticing that the Emperor could not resist taking a sip. He marvelled at his own discovery and made the drink a national beverage. The plant was what is today commonly known as Camellia, which grows wild in China.

Tea consumption spread during the ensuing centuries. The first definitive book on tea - Cha Ching ("Tea Classic") - was written during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) by poet Lu Yu. In addition to cataloguing various methods of tea cultivation and preparation, the classic work set rules on the proper techniques for brewing the finest cup. It also, for the first time in history, defined the art of tea drinking.

Tea types

According to the lengths of fermentation and the level of treatment, tea can be divided into six principal varieties.

• Green Tea is unfermented, produced by steaming fresh-picked leaves. It turns yellowish-green when brewed and has a delicate taste;

• White Tea is slightly fermented and achieves a mellow, sweet flavour;

• Black Tea is fully fermented before firing. It carries a bright reddish colour and yields a hearty-flavoured, amber brew;

• Oolong Tea is indigenous to the Fujian province of China. It is only partially oxidised and produces a cross between green and black tea when boiled. It is bright yellow in colour and has a fruity taste;

• Pu'er-type Tea is a variation of green tea, oolong tea or black tea and is fully fermented. When brewed, it turns dark brown;

• Scented Tea is a blend of tea leaves and fresh, sweet flowers.

Opening ceremony of Beijing Olympics