Fragrant and good for your health, tea is the most widely exported Chinese beverage. While the video below serves up some very useful information on some of the most famous of these teas, learning about interesting stories about this culturally significant drink could add even more flavor to its already subtle and rich taste.
Despite its popularity overseas, tea was not initially embraced in its home country, as is proved by this little anecdote: Wang Meng, a high-level government official during the Jin dynasty (A.D. 265-420), not only consumed the drink every day, but insisted his guests share in his favorite beverage. Worry among Wang’s friends before a visit gave rise to the light-hearted expression “water bane”.
A type of tea called “Fatal Smelling Tea” because it was so fragrant that people might die from smelling it was once presented to the Qing dynasty Emperor Qianlong (A.D. 1711-1799) as a regional tribute. The erudite ruler was quick to point out the tea’s lousy name. Since its leaves were green, curvy like a snail’s shell and collected in spring, he went on to christen the tea “biluochun（碧螺春）” (“bi” meaning green, “luo” snail and “chun” spring in Chinese).
A little trick to get more out of the biluochun drinking experience: put the leaves in a see-through glass, pour in just enough water to immerse the leaves and fill the glass only when the wet leaves have straightened, which will then swirl like green snow .
In Chinese folklore, a tea merchant surnamed Chen was talking with a master of tea at his home one day when he remembered about a pouch of tea a girl gave him years ago. While the tea was being made, Chen opened the pot’s lid to be met with a rush of fragrance, the image of a gorgeous girl holding jasmine emerging in the spiraling steam. The master told Chen that this was “gratitude tea,” upon which Chen remembered how he met the girl while lodging at a tavern. The girl told him that her father had just passed away and she had no money to bury him. A compassionate Chen gave the girl some money and the pouch of tea was her token of gratitude.
But why jasmine? Chen and the master made a fresh pot with the same leaves and the same girl with jasmine flowers appeared as she did before. Sipping the tea, Chen realized that this could be some tea goddess’ way of telling them that jasmine can be used to make the beverage. As a result, jasmine tea was invented and soon became one of the most popular varieties around.
A long time ago, a deadly plague struck a village where two brothers and their sister were living. According to legend, many brave young men had gone to retrieve a healing herb from a mountain from which none returned. On a day, the brothers and their sister also decided to go look for the herb.
Reaching the foot of the mountain, an old man appeared before the eldest brother and told him not to look back if he wanted to get the herbs. Halfway to the top and amid grotesque rocks, he suddenly heard someone shout, “How dare you trespass on the mountain!” Turning around, he was instantaneously turned to stone. The younger brother fared no better, forgetting the old man’s warning and letting himself be transformed in turn.
So, the burden fell on their sister, who met the same old man as her hapless brothers. However, the old man gave the girl a piece of glutinous rice. Echoing Odysseus sailing past the sirens, the girl blocked her ears with the rice upon hearing the call. Making her way safely past the devilish sounds, she managed to find the healing herbs. Taking their seeds back to the village, she planted them on hillside where they grew into trees with shoots later processed into silver needle white tea (白毫银针, read as Baihao Yinzhen, in Chinese).