Camellia sinensis, Tea are divided into 6 types: Green Tea (Lu Cha), White Tea (Bai Cha), Yellow (Huang Cha), Black Tea (Hong Cha), Wu Long Tea, Pu Er Tea or Dark/Fermented Tea (Hei Cha). In my last post, I wrote about Green Tea, which does not undergo any form of oxidation as with White Tea, which are the buds/immature Camellia sinensis. All the other forms of Tea undergo a process of oxidation, which sometimes is called fermentation. Yellow Tea is Camellia sinensis leaves that have undergone very light oxidation to remove the grassy flavor but is often categorized as Green Tea. Pu Er and Dark Tea are sometimes known as Brick Tea. This was the way Tea was able to be transported all over the world including the Silk Road, as they were compressed into a brick/cake form to save space and remain fresh. What we know as Black Tea, the Chinese called Red Tea (Hong Cha) is 100 percent oxidized. Wu Long Tea is a categorization for oxidized Tea from 8 to 85 percent. Here, there are innumerable possibilities for creativity, creating Wu Long Tea that appear like Green Tea or Black Tea but aren't. As such the Gong Fu Cha ceremony was created to enjoy this form of Tea.
My husband and I are Tea drinkers. We drink Tea almost everyday and often in the ceremonial form of Gong Fu Cha. Our favorite type of Tea is Wu Long Cha, which means Black Dragon Tea, referring to the shape that the Camellia sinensis leaf curls up into as it undergoes oxidation and unfurls as you steep it in your teapot. About 15 years ago, we travelled to Taiwan for the first time, which is well-known for its Wu Long Tea, to see where Tea is grown and experience Tea culture. We met people who drink, grow, make and sell Tea. Every corner you turned to there is Tea, whether it's a Tea shop or a place where people just gather to drink Tea. We met intellectuals who studied at the university, Tea farmers, Tea shop-keepers or just Tea connoisseurs. They all had something in common; there is a certain respect for the plant and for life. Taiwan is an island with steep, misty mountain slopes ideal for growing Tea. They make some of the best High-Mountain Wu Long Tea. One can observe these by the way the leaves look, whole and large. I must say that the Taiwanese are some of the friendliest people I have ever met on my journeys throughout the world. If this has an effect on the Tea or vice versa, I cannot say, but the experience of Tea-drinking is definitely enhanced by the company you share it with.
In Chinese Medicine, Wu Long Cha is used for clearing heat and detoxifying the digestive system as a result of food poisoning. It is also good for edema as it is a diuretic. It clears the head and eyes as a result of hangovers from alcohol or tiredness, as well as breaks down grease as a result of a heavy meal. This is often why you will get a pot of Wu Long Tea in a Chinese restaurant to go with a meal in Asia. Wu Long Tea is never drunk with sugar or milk, as these additives will destroy the flavor of a good teas. Unlike Green Tea, you use close to 100-degree Celsius heated water for Wu Long Tea. The first flush is to wash the leaves and from the second onward, you drink and savour its essence. If a Tea is of good quality, its flavor will remain for a few flushes. As with any Tea, teabags often do not hold good quality Tea as there would not be enough space for the leaves to expand and therefore often contain crushed leaves. In my opinion, teabags are convenient but lacks the subtlety for "real" Tea drinking. As with humans, Tea leaves need space, enough time to steep and the ideal atmosphere to flourish; this will allow it to display its best qualities.
Images by Elaine