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All About Chinese Tea

Chinese tea offers soothing qualities and a chance to relax

No matter what type of tea you drink, its origins began in China about 5,000 years ago. Whether you prefer the bagged variety or purchase it loose, you are enjoying the efforts of hundreds of years of wisdom, tradition, and planting.

Tea is now produced in many parts of the world, but the Chinese have perfected its use. In true Chinese fashion, it is consumed daily after a meal, minus sugar and milk. Tea is also offered upon a guest's arrival. It is a significant welcome, going well beyond good manners.

Tea, which is called "cha" in the Chinese language, is steeped in a variety of ways. Often, it is best to place the leaves in a single mug - or gaiwan - and add boiling water. By tradition, the cup is never filled more than seven-tenths full as the rest is "filled with friendship."

Traditionally, a tea cup must be emptied in three sips. But that doesn't mean you cannot have second helpings. In fact, the pungent tea leaves are often better after a second steeping, especially if drinking black tea. In authentic fashion, some tea drinkers skip the first serving and go directly to the second - they just pour out the first cup.

You'll find three basic tea categories, depending on the level of fermentation prior to the drying process. These may begin as leaves from the same plant.

Green tea leaves are unfermented. Green tea is often more expensive than black tea because the quality of leaves is better. It is said to have many healthful qualities including the ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Many people also contend that it slows the aging process by reducing stress.

The highest grade of green tea is called Lungjing (Dragon Well). You'll find many flavored teas on the market - jasmine may be the most familiar - and they are all made from green tea leaves.

Oolong tea is also labeled as Wulong. It is partially fermented and is a bit less subtle than green tea. It claims to be beneficial in the areas of increased metabolism and weight control.

Black tea. Also known as "red tea." Because it is fully fermented, black tea is stronger and richer than green and Oolong teas. It, too, has its healthful claims, specifically in reducing the possibility of a stroke.

If you are looking for special Chinese teas, make sure they are as fresh as possible. If the product is dusty, move on. Buying tea in bulk is economical and means the leaves will be intact. Tea bags contain blends of the original tea products, including ground up branches. It is believed that the best teas are grown at higher altitudes, so pay attention to these claims if you see them advertised.

Always keep your teas tightly sealed as they will acquire the flavors of other foods. You can keep tea for several years, but it is best used within the first six months of purchase.

Now you are ready to go in search of the perfect Chinese tea.


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