Learning life lessons by reading tea leaves
By Ye JunSome of the best things in life don’t happen until you grow old enough to recognize them. Ican say that about tea.
I didn’t start to drink tea until I was 35. What happened before that? Well, it simply didn’t seemnecessary.
The first time I felt a genuine urge to drink tea was in 2003, when I stayed briefly in the UnitedKingdom. After a time of consuming local food, I started to really like strong black tea.Although it was too strong to my tongue, I felt it was a necessity because it was comforting tomy body.
I took packs of green teas with me as gifts but was disappointed to find my British friendspreferred much stronger black teas from Sri Lanka. Later I learned that although people knowChina for its teas, it ranks only third among the world’s black tea exporters, after Sri Lankaand Kenya.
After I came back to China and started to cover food stories, I met friends in the tea-drinkingcircle and learned more. Although the majority of the rest of the world drinks black tea, whichthe Chinese call “red tea”, China produces and drinks mostly green teas.
Another major difference is that Chinese people prefer to drink what are called “original leaf”teas, in which the leaves are whole, compared to the finely chopped black tea that isprevalent in the world market.
Chinese teas are also probably the world’s most expensive. While other parts of the worldspend a few dollars on a pound of finely chopped black tea, for 200-400 yuan ($31-$62) onecan only get an average tea in the Chinese market. Some mingqian cha, green teas madewith the first spring sprouts before qingming, the tomb-sweeping festival that fell on April 4this year, cost more than 1,000 yuan per 500 grams.
I feel lucky to be Chinese because of the great variety of teas available in the country. It isestimated that there are more than 2,000 teas in China if you divide them geographically,including more than 600 locally famous brews. A more simple way to categorize is by colorand extent of fermentation. That comes down to six main categories -green, white, yellow,dark-greenish (oolong), red and black teas.
It is said that the Chinese started to drink tea 5,000 years ago. A written record aboutShennong, the legendary Chinese ancestor who started agriculture, tasted hundreds ofgrasses to find the proper grains, but was made ill from toxins many times a day. Luckily hefound tea, which flushed out the toxins. There are many enticing Chinese stories about tealike this one that draw people like me to learn more about the beverage.
Tasting teas can be compared to our lives. They can be plain and predictable but sometimesthey are full of pleasant surprises. Occasionally they can even seem too good to be true. Thebest thing is, you know there’s always more to explore.