How would you like your tea? Milk and sugar?
When it comes to tea, both the Chinese and English have international reputations for tea culture. Tea is widely enjoyed in different cultures today. Although tea originated in China, the flavour and culture of tea have developed in various regions to fit the local taste.
As a person growing up drinking Chinese tea, I find tasting the English style of tea quite interesting.
This article will introduce you to Chinese tea culture, and explore the differences between the Chinese style and English style of tea.
Different Tea Leaves and Taste
The most common types of Chinese tea are green tea, black tea, white tea, oolong tea, and pu’er tea. The different levels of fermentation make these teas unique from each other. Most green and white teas are unfermented and taste more tender and fresh than fermented teas, such as black tea, which have a richer and stronger taste and look darker. Each kind of tea has numerous varieties. They vary depending on the different seasons and places the tea leaves were picked.
To make a cup of Chinese tea, you must use whole leaves. The Chinese care about the quality of each tea leaf and want the tea leaves to be visible. By observing the colour and aromas of the tea leaves, you can tell what the quality of the tea will be like. The quality of water and material of your teacup can also influence the taste of your tea.
English tea tastes milder compared to Chinese style tea because of the different origins and brewing methods. As the English climate is not ideal for growing tea leaves, most English teas are imported from Asian countries such as India, while Chinese tea is grown and produced locally.
The classic types such as English breakfast, Earl Grey, and Ceylon are blended black tea. Teabags are more commonly used in English style tea which causes a different taste to Chinese tea because whole leaves usually give a more pure and strong taste.
Different Drinking Habits
The different drinking habits are probably the most prominent difference between Chinese and English tea. When having a cup of English tea, you would probably add some milk and sugar and then use a spoon to mix everything in. Afternoon tea is the perfect representative of the typical English tea culture. You sit down with your family and friends to have a nice chat and enjoy a nice cup of tea, accompanied by desserts and snacks. The quality of dessert is also really makes or breaks the English afternoon tea experience.
Left: Typical English tea with Milk. Right: Brewing Chinese black tea at home.
The Chinese way of tea drinking focuses more on the taste of the tea itself. Milk and sugar are never added. The Chinese like to enjoy the pure taste of the tea, so you would also never use a spoon to stir your teacup. You only add hot water into the teapot and wait for the flavour and aroma of the tea leaves to get infused. The distinct tea sets also reflect different drinking habits.
Tea is a favored beverage at Chinese dining tables and often matches the meal that comes with it. Black tea and Chamomile tea are popular selections in restaurants. Next time when you are in a Chinese restaurant, you may want to try their teas with some Chinese food. Chinese people believe that having a cup of tea before the meal is beneficial because it warms your stomach and stimulates your appetite, and a cup of tea after the meal helps digestion and to freshen your breath.
Different Cultural Meanings
Chinese tea contains many philosophical meanings and ancient culture that still influence the Chinese characteristics today. Tea frequently appears in many Chinese poetries, proverbs and tales, and they are always conveying traditional philosophies.
In contrast to English afternoon tea where more emphasis is laid on communicating and chatting with others, Chinese tea drinkers prefer a quiet drinking environment, as they believe the silent environment will allow you to do reflective thinking on yourself and your life. Ancient Chinese thinkers such as Confucius teach their students to be humble and introspect yourself every day. These ideas have influenced the Chinese people profoundly throughout history.
Chinese see tea as a drink that is bitter but fragrant, low-key, pure, warm, and gentle. These spiritual characteristics of Chinese tea have guided the Chinese people’s behavior until today.
Left: Traditional English afternoon tea Source: sohu.com, 2017. Right: Ancient Chinese poetry about tea Source: one plus eight liquor Ltd.
Tea is not only a drink that quenches your thirst, but it also contains many more cultural meanings in different regions. No matter what flavors you prefer, milk or not, sweet or bitter, you can always find relaxation in your cup.
So now, English style or Chinese style, which do you prefer?