When sailing ships ruled the seas and Western merchants sailed to China for their tea, most of the tea China exported was shipped out of Amoy. In fact, the word “tea” originated in the Amoy (Hokkien) dialect.
I mention this because my late husband was born in Amoy and also because the action in my novel, Tiger Tail Soup, takes place there.
Amoy, which is now called Xiamen, is a major Chinese city with a population of over 3,500,000. You’ll find it along the southeast coast in Fujian Province, an area that is famous for its oolong tea.
Types of tea.
Teas differ from each other based on many things: where they’re grown, the way they’re picked, and the particular plant. But the main difference is how they’re processed. The three most well-known types of tea are black, oolong and green.
Black tea. Black tea goes through the most processing. After picking, the leaves are allowed to wither. Then they’re rolled and crushed and allowed to oxidize or ferment. When fermentation is complete, they’re dried in an oven.
Oolong tea. Oolong tea is semi-oxidized or fermented.
Green tea. Green tea is not fermented at all. The leaves are heated immediately after plucking. This prevents them from oxidizing.
Other types of tea: Pu’erh tea and white tea.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when everyone else in China was still drinking green tea, someone in the region of Phoenix Mountain began producing a semi-fermented tea. It took a few hundred years, but eventually the emperor heard about the uniquely flavored tea, and chose it as a “tribute tea.” The downside of the designation was that the growers were required to send a continuous supply of their tea to the emperor as a tribute. The upside was that their tea became famous.
In those days (and sometimes even now), tea was compressed into a kind of tea cake. The tea sent to the emperor was compressed in a mold which imprinted a dragon and a phoenix on top of it. Later, when loose tea came into fashion, because of the long black leaves, they called it “black dragon tea,” which in the Amoy dialect sounded like “oolong tea.”
Popular varieties of oolong tea.
Ti GuanYin or Iron Goddess of Mercy is a very famous tea from the Anxi area of South Fujian.
Golden Cassia is a fragrant tea that is also from the Anxi area.
Da Hong Pao or Big Red Robe is a Wuyi Rock or Cliff tea from the mountains of Fujian. It’s a premium tea that has sold for up to US$35,436/ounce. Needless to say, you only serve Da Hong Pao at very special occasions.
The story of this expensive tea is interesting. According to legend, the mother of a Ming Dynasty emperor became deathly ill, but after drinking Da Hong Pao, she recovered. In gratitude, the emperor sent four large red robes to clothe the tea bushes where her tea originated. Three of those bushes still survive today on a rock on Mount Wuyi.
The Western style of steeping your oolong tea.
Now let’s get practical. To make oolong tea, use 2 or 3 grams of leaf for 6 ounces of water. The water should be 180-200 degrees F. Steep the leaves for 3-5 minutes. You can make a second pot with the same leaves.
Health benefits of tea.
The health benefits of drinking tea are too numerous to list in this post, so here’s a link to one of many articles.
Origin of the phrase, “Not for all the tea in China.”
The phrase “not for all the tea in China” is thought to have originated in the late 19th century in Australia. One of the earliest citings was from the writings of J.J. Mann. Traveling to Australia, a country that at the time had laws that kept all non-whites from entering, Mr. Mann asked for permission to bring a black servant with him. The authorities would have none of it. They told him in no uncertain terms that they wouldn’t allow his servant to enter, “not for all the tea in China.”
What is your favorite tea? Do you put sugar and milk in your tea? Lemon? Do you prefer coffee? Or something stronger?
I like oolong tea, but I also drink a lot of green tea. Right now I have a packet of Coconut Pouchong tea on the counter. Unbelievably delicious!