Of the three major beverages of the world---tea, coffee and cocoa---tea is consumed by the largest number of people, China is the homeland of tea. It is believed that China has tea shrubs as early as five to six thousand years ago, a human cultivation of tea plants tat dates back two thousand years. Tea from China , along with her silk and porcelain, began to be known the world over more than a thousand years ago and has since always been and important Chinese expert. At present more than forty countries in the world grow tea with Asian countries producing 90% of the world's total output. All the tea trees in other countries have their origin directly or indirectly in China . The word for tea leaves or tea as a drink in many countries are derivatives from the Chinese character cha.
The Russians call it cha'I, which sounds like chaye (tea leaves) as it pronounced in northern China . The English word tea sounds similar to the pronunciation of its counterpart in Xiamen ( Amoy ). The Japanese character for tea is written exactly the same as it is in Chinese though pronounced with a slight difference. The habit of tea drinking spread to Japan in the 6 th century, but it was not introduced to Europe and America till the 17 th and 18 th century. Now the number of tea drinkers in the world is legion and is still on the increase.
The categories of Tea
Chinese tea may be classified into five categories according to the different methods by which it is processed. 1) Green tea: Green tea is the variety which keeps the original color of the tea leaves without fermentation during processing. This category consists mainly of Longjing of Huangshan Mountain in Anhui Province and Biluochun produced in Jiangsu . 2)Black tea: Black tea, known as ˇ°red teaˇ± (hong cha) in China , is the category which is fermented before baking; it is a later variety developed on the basis of the green tea. The best brands of black tea are Qihong of Anhui, Dianhong of Yunnan, Suhong of Jiangsu, Chuanhong of Sichuan and Huhong of Hunan. 3)Wulong tea: This represents a variety half way between the green and the black teas, being made after partial fermentation. It is a specialty from the provinces on China 's southeast coast: Fujian , Guangdong and Taiwan . 4) Compressed tea: This is the kind of tea which is compressed and hardened into a certain shape. It is good for transport and storage and is mainly supplied to the ethnic minorities living in the border areas of the country. As compressed tea is black in color in its commercial form, so it is also known in China as ˇ°black teaˇ±. Most of the compressed tea is in the form of bricks; it is, therefore, generally called ˇ°brick teaˇ±, though it is sometimes also in the form of cakes and bowls. It is mainly produced in Hubei , Hunan , Sichuan and Yunnan Province . 5) Scented tea: This kind of tea is made by mixing fragrant flowers in the tea leaves in the course of processing. The flowers commonly used for this purpose are jasmine and magnolia among others. Jasmine tea is well-known favorite with the northeast of China and with a growing number of foreigners.
Advantages of Tea-drinking
Tea has been one of the daily necessities in China since time immemorial. Countless numbers of people like to have their aftermeal cup of tea.
In summer or warm climate, tea seems to dispel the heat and bring on instant cool together with a feeling of relaxation. For this reason, tea-house abound in towns and market villages in south China and provide elderly retirees with the locals to meet and chat over a cup of tea.
Medically, the tea leaf contains a number of chemicals, of which 20-30% is tannic acid, known for its anti-inflammatory and germicidal properties. It also contains an alkaloid (5% mainly caffeine), a stimulant for the nerve center and the process of metabolism. Tea with the aromatics in it may help resolve meat and fat and thus promote digestion. It is therefore, of special importance to people who live mainly on meat, like many of the ethnic minorities in China . A popular proverb among them says, ˇ°Rather go without salt for three days than without tea for a single day.ˇ±
Tea is also rich in various vitamins and, for smokers, it helps to discharge nicotine out of the system. After wining, strong tea may prove to be a sobering pick-me-up.
The above, however, does not go to say that the stronger the tea, the more advantages it will yield. Too much tannic acid will affect the secretion of the gastric juice, irritate the membrane of the stomach and cause indigestion or constipation. Strong tea taken just before bedtime will give rise to occasional insomnia. Constant drinking of over-strong tea may induce heart and blood-pressure disorders in some people, reduce the milk of a breast-feeding mother, and put a brown color on the teeth of young people. But it is not difficult to ward off these undesirable effects: just don't make your tea too strong.
China is one of the first countries to have invented alcohol as a drink. A large number of pottery wine vessels were discovered in Shangdong at the ruins of the Dawenkou culture which dates back 5,000 years. Recorded history tells about wine-making techniques of more than 4,000 years ago. The earliest wines were made from food grains, mainly various kinds of rice, broomcorn and millet. As a result of improvements in brewing skills, the yellow wine made its appearance probably in the Warring States Period. From an ancient bomb of the Warring State Period in Pingshan Country of Hubei Province , large numbers of wine-storing and drinking vessels were excavated in the 1970' s. Two of them contain an alcoholic drink made from wheat 2,280 years ago. It is probably the oldest liquor ever brought to light in the world.
Nowadays, alcohol, wine or beer is usually served on tables. In some areas, people show their hospitality by getting their guests around to drink a lot of either liquor, wine or beer..
Well-known drinks in China
Chinese wines and liquors were assessed by a national panel of wine-tasting experts on three occasions, in 1953, 1963 and 1979. Maotai has always been at the top of any listing of China 's drinks. It is named after the small town of Maotai in Guizhou Province where it is produced.
Being almost indispensable at state banquets held in Beijing or official receptions given by Chinese envoys abroad, Maotai used to be the ˇ°national drinkˇ± or ˇ°diplomatic drinkˇ± of the country. It is the most valued drink when friends and relatives gather on holidays or other festive occasions. But owing to the big gap between supply and demand, its price has gone up greatly in recent years.
Maotai is made from a high-quality gaoliang (Chinese sorghum) as its main material. The distiller's yeast is prepared from wheat, which is important to its taste, is from local springs. Unique, too, is its process of manufacture, which consists of eight times of distillation after as many periods of fermentation, each lasting more than a month following the addition of yeast. So the whole process takes more than eight months. It is then stored away for ageing for three years before it is allowed to appear on the market.
Maotai looks crystal clear. Though a potent drink, it is never burning to the mouth or throat, nor does it go to the head or upset the stomach. Since ancient times it has been a favorite drink with poets and other people of artistic penchant. They believe that when setting their writing or painting brushes to paper, they find inspiration fro m a cup of Maotai more than anything else.