Culture Hack: Chinese Tea

The most difficult thing when learning Chinese is to maintain motivation – especially when faced with textbook after textbook of indistinguishable content. One of the best ways to maintain your interest is to learn about part of the culture, this way you can increase your motivation by learning about things that interest you, while at the same time increasing your general knowledge of the language. Whichever area of the culture that you choose depends on your individual interests and also which language you are learning.

A major part of Chinese culture is tea (茶). There are many types of tea available in Asia, ranging from the ice-tea (冰茶) shops of Taiwan, to the Pu-erh (普洱) tea cakes of the Yunnan (雲南) province in China, there should be a type of tea to suit every taste.

The best way to start learning about tea is to just jump right in an try some, find out which you like the most and go from there. The main categories/families of Chinese tea are as follows:

中國與台灣茶 (中国与台湾茶)

A traditional tea shop in Kaohsiung, Taiwan
A traditional tea shop in Kaohsiung, Taiwan

绿茶(绿茶)

Pinyin: lǜ chá
Zhuyin: ㄌㄩˋ ㄔㄚˊ
English:  Green Tea

白茶(白茶)

Pinyin: bái chá
Zhuyin: ㄅㄞˊ ㄔㄚˊ
English: White Tea

黃茶(黄茶)

Pinyin: huáng chá
Zhuyin: ㄏㄨㄤˊ ㄔㄚˊ
English: Yellow Tea

烏龍茶/青茶(乌龙茶/青茶)

Pinyin: wū lóng chá / qīng chá
Zhuyin: ㄨ ㄌㄨㄥˊ ㄔㄚˊ / ㄑㄧㄥ ㄔㄚˊ
English: Oolong Tea

紅茶(红茶)

Pinyin: hóng chá
Zhuyin: ㄏㄨㄥˊ ㄔㄚˊ
English: Red Tea (Black tea, such as English, Indian teas)

黑茶(黑茶)

Pinyin: hēi chá
Zhuyin: ㄏㄟ (ㄏㄟˇ) ㄔㄚˊ
English: Black Tea (such as 普洱 Pu Erh Tea)

花茶(花茶)

Pinyin: huā chá
Zhuyin: ㄏㄨㄚ ㄔㄚˊ
English: Flower Tea

Now where to start? Due to the subtle taste, most beginners to tea might find that High Mountain Oolong tea (高山乌龙茶) is the best place to start, Jasmine Green Tea (茉莉綠茶) also has an agreeable flavour that should be well suited as a first tea. Green Tea is well known for it’s grassy taste, while Pu-Erh (普洱), a type of black tea, has a very earthy taste and probably only recommended for people who are already used to drinking tea.

One of the best parts of tea culture is the preparation itself, in China and Taiwan this is known as a Gongfu Tea Ceremony (功夫茶), which basically means ‘skilled tea’ ceremony. The tea preparation consists of a series of steps from warming the tea pot, rinsing the tea, to the method of handing the cups to guests. Gongfu Tea is a great experience and a must-do for any foreigners visiting Taiwan or China.

Gongfu Tea Set at a Taiwanese Tea House

To continue learning about tea, a decent book is essential. There are many good books available that detail all the variations of tea and the related preparation techniques. Try to find a Chinese language book, as remember – the main reason, apart from enjoying some good tea, is to learn Chinese. We hope to bring you more in-depth articles on tea and it’s preparation in the coming months.

茶圖鑑 - The Illustrated Book of Tea

Do you like drinking tea? If so which type of tea, and have you ever been to a traditional tea house and made Gongfu tea?