The transformation of Chinese tea from a local produce to a modern luxury

buy Chinese teaWe have witnessed the traditional Chinese tea, green tea, white tea, Oolong tea, Pu-erh tea and all others transforming from a country folk’s staple food to a luxury item today during our life time from aspects more than one.

A bit of history

My grandmother was a classic villager resided in a small country village in the Fu-Jian Province, the tea country of China. Following are some of my memories of the tea consumption when I was growing up in her village.

My grandfather died when my grandmother was in her late 20’s. For a woman like her of that time in China without a husband, the alternative name was extreme poverty as women simply did not have ‘jobs’. For rich for poor, teas however companied her for all her life.

Like many other villagers of her time, the first thing she would do when she got up in the morning was to get ready for a pot of tea for after breakfast. The teas were mostly locally produced, in her case mostly green tea and Oolong tea, and purchased from the local market with all other local produces. Tea was a must have every day. When visitors dropped in without any warning (phones were not available), the first thing she did was to put the kettle on and get the teapot ready for a pot of tea to share. Tea was a way of everyday life, not just for the rich.
The costs of teas have sky rocketed since largely due to the increased demand, in China and worldwide. This increase of prices affects categories of all Chinese teas: green tea, white tea, yellow tea, Oolong tea, black tea and Pu-erh tea.

A Luxury for aspects more than one

Apart from the price increase, the is also another element of ‘out of reach’ that is much ignored, which is TIME. I have had so many inquiries for methods to: brew teas while customers are waiting; reduce tea temperature quickly so that the customer can consume immediately; tea bags suitable for those who are on the go and the list goes on. A crucial aspect of tea enjoyment with is sitting down, take time to share a pot of tea with families and friends over a chat, unnoticeably disappears into the history.

As a Chinese decedent who is proud of my inheritance, tea, not as a product but a culture, is one of the few that I wish we could turn the clock back a few decades. Off the treadmill of the modern life style and take time to enjoy a humble pot of tea like my grandmother’s generation did.

Additional note

Ironically, one of the reasons that the popularity of tea is rapidly increasing worldwide is their potential to combat ‘modern life style related health conditions’, such as cancers, cardio-vascular-diseases, overweight and diabetes etc. How much weight can the humble teas pull remains to be determined. This reminds me of a Chinese humour regarding our current lifestyle: the companies pay with money and we pay with our lives.

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Pu-erh tea storage risks

Puer teaA big advantage of Pu-erh tea in comparison to other tea categories such as green tea, is its aging nature. There is not urgency to consume the tea while fresh as a tea naturally improves with ageing. The down side however is the risks of damage during the storage period. The following images surfaced during the recent cyclone/flood in Fang-Cun of Guang-Zhou (the tea trade capital of China): the street turned into a river of tea soup and tons of teas damaged. There is not available data on how much damage has been caused yet, but the sight is not looking good. 

A good aged raw (Sheng) Pu-erh or ripened (shou) Pu-erh would require at least good 10 years storage under optimal conditions. Many factors can affect the tea’s quality if not damaged completely. The sale price of tea is therefore: the original the purchasing cost, long term storage cost factoring the damaged stock along the way.

If global warming is affecting all aspects of human lives, tea industry is not excluded and Pu-erh tea is a vulnerable one. 

pu-erh tea

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Tea water separation a strange but useful term

It is almost impossible to talk about a tea without water, from cultivation to the final stage of tea brewing.

The ‘tea water separation’ discussed here is however a different but meaningful concept.

The very reason that teas are delightful to sensors is because of the effects of their internal substances. The correct brewing methods maximise the extraction of these substances and their optimal concentration in the tea brew.

‘Tea water separation’ is a term used to describe the breakdown of this process. The impression is the ‘incomparability of the tea and water’.

Following are some of the causes to ‘tea water separation’ of Pu-erh teas:


Processing issues:

  1. jelena 4Tea leaves harvested during the raining season, Chinese term ‘水味’ (water taste)
  2. Short of rubbing during the processing. These causes the insufficient release of the internal substances for tea brew.
  3. Not steamed and compressed thoroughly during the processing. The ‘tea water separation’ phenomenon is especially prominent when new/young for these teas. 

Brewing method issues:

  1. Pu-erh tea requires 100-degree temperature hot water to brew the tea. The tea can taste ‘watery’ if the water temperature is not high enough.
  2. Insufficient ‘tea waking (醒茶)’ time. It takes normally 5-10 seconds for the tea leaves to be separated from each other when brewing compressed tea. A rush to serve the tea can cause the brew to taste ‘tea water separation’.
  3. Inadequate serving intervals can cause the tea internal substances to dissolve in the brews unevenly.
  4. Too many infusions from one serve of the tea leaves.

 

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