The Origins and History of Tea in China

China is the birthplace of tea. It is where tea was first harvested thousands of years ago when, as legend has it, some leaves fell into a pot of boiling water in an emperor’s compound. It is more likely that a curious and hungry peasant chewed on a leaf from a wild camellia sinensis bush, liked the taste, and boiled up a leaf to see if it was drinkable.  It was!

Of course, we’ll never know exactly how Chinese tea came to be. The good news is, we don’t have to know tea’s origin to enjoy the world’s second-most consumed beverage after water.

In any event, teas don’t all come from China today. India has a thriving industry all its own, based on a slightly different variety of camellia sinensis that grows in Assam and another variant in Darjeeling. Taiwan, Japan, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Myanmar, and other countries—even some in South and Central America—are each producing tea for domestic consumption and export.

So with all this worldwide production, why is Chinese drinking tea still considered the heavyweight in the marketplace? The first reason for the enduring popularity of Chinese tea is its historic legacy. Just think: China had been making and consuming tea for a thousand years before the Chinese shared it with the Japanese. That constitutes a pretty good branding lead for the Chinese tea industry.

Yet it wouldn’t still be the world’s top producer in 2012 were Chinese tea not a quality product, which is the second reason for its popularity. China’s tea farmers have faithfully preserved the cultivation and production skills honed generation after generation, and contemporary tea drinkers are glad they have. To visit isolated tea farms in southern China is to step back into time. Many of the farmers essentially are camellia sinensis artisans. In legendary mountain regions of Chinese tea production, larger tea estates are meticulously maintained. Producing Chinese drinking tea is as much a tradition as an industry.

From this nationwide labor of love emerge such classic drinks as Keemun Mao Feng black tea, a fragrant, mellow drink of worldwide popularity, and the fruity Premium Bi Luo Chun black tea from East Mountain in Jiangxi Province. Chinese white teas include such rare and exotic offerings as Bai Hao Yin Zhen white-tipped silver needle, a southern Fujian tea with a roasted chestnut aroma.  Da Hong Pao is China’s most famous Wuyi oolong rock tea. And if China is king of the tea world, pu-erh tea is the king of the teas. The post-fermented pu-erh tea is produced almost solely in China.

Tea drinkers are grateful they don’t have to travel to China to acquire these exquisite brews. While tea production hasn’t changed dramatically over the centuries, distribution certainly has. Chinese drinking tea now is sold via the Internet, a far speedier marketing channel than the Tea Horse Trail, if a much less romantic one. Tea lovers anywhere in the globe can buy Chinese teas online through reputable tea suppliers—Wild & Bare Co. among them.

The future of Chinese drinking tea is as bright as golden tea soup, for not only are heritage teas being preserved, new teas are being developed. The heyday of Chinese tea might be a thousand springtime harvests from now!

Dana Smith

Dana smith is a niche writer. She loves to write about hot and trending topics. When free, She loves to visit outside.

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