Definitions

tea ritual

Gunpowder tea

[guhn-pou-der]
Gunpowder tea (; pinyin: zhū chá) is a form of green Chinese tea produced in Zhejiang Province of China in which each leaf has been rolled into a small round pellet. It is believed to take its English name from the fact that the tea resembles gunpowder pellets used for cannons (see Etymology). This rolling method of shaping tea is most often applied either to dried green tea (the most commonly encountered variety outside China) or Oolong tea.

Gunpowder tea production dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618–907) but it was first introduced to Taiwan in the 1800s. Although the individual leaves were formerly rolled by hand, today most gunpowder tea is rolled by machines (though the highest grades are still rolled by hand). Rolling tea leaves into gunpowder tea renders the leaves less susceptible to physical damage and allows them to retain more of their flavor and aroma. In addition, it allows certain types of oolong teas to be aged for decades if they are cared for by being occasionally roasted.

When buying gunpowder tea it is important to look for shiny pellets, which indicate that the tea is relatively fresh.

Varieties

When sold as a variety of tea, Gunpowder tea has several varieties:

  • Pingshui Gunpowder (平水珠茶) : The original and most common variety of Gunpowder tea with larger pearls, better color, and a more aromatic infusion, which is commonly sold as Temple of Heaven Gunpowder or Pinhead Gunpowder, the former, a common brand of this tea variety.
  • Formosa Gunpowder : A Gunpowder style tea grown in Taiwan near Keelung, it is claimed to have its own characteristic aroma, different from that of Zhejiang Province Gunpowder grown in mainland China. Formosa gunpowder teas are typically fresh or roasted oolongs.
  • Ceylon Gunpowder : A Gunpowder variant grown in Sri Lanka, usually at altitudes exceeding 1,800 metres (6,000 ft), see Green Ceylon teas.

Several types of green teas are commonly rolled into "gunpowder" form, including Chunmee, Tieguanyin, Huang Guanyin, and Dong Ding, as well as many other oolong and higher-end jasmine teas.

Etymology

In Chinese, gunpowder tea is called zhū chá (; literally "pearl tea" or "bead tea"; not to be confused with boba tea).

The origin of the English term may come from the Mandarin Chinese term gāng paò de (), simply meaning "freshly brewed," which sounds like the English word "gunpowder." More likely, however, the English name derives from the tea's similarity in appearance to actual gunpowder: greyish, dark pellets of irregular shape used as explosive propellant for early guns. The name may also have arisen from the fact that the grey-green leaf is tightly rolled into a tiny pellet and "explodes" into a long leaf upon being steeped in hot water. Another explanation is that the tea also can have a smoky flavor.

Ethnic uses

Gunpowder tea is exported to the Maghreb where it is used in the preparation of traditional North African mint tea. The Moroccan tea ritual is at the heart of any social gathering, from an informal visit to a neighbour to lavish soirees with dignitaries. A minimum of two cups need to be drunk so as not to offend the host.

References

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