The derivation of the word tea comes from the Chinese cha, in the Amoy dialect the word being té. The drinking of tea in China is of great antiquity, and according to a Chinese legend it was the Emperor Chinnung (2737 B.C.), to whom all agricultural and medical knowledge is attributed, who first discovered its virtues. But it is highly probable that tea was known at a still earlier period. In the ninth century the knowledge of tea was carried from China into Japan, and the priest Miyoye brought seed from China and planted it in the south island, Kiushiu, whence the cultivation rapidly spread.
Although other Chinese products were known and used in Europe in early times, no reference to tea in European literature can be traced before the year 1588. It was not till the Dutch established themselves at Bantam in the early part of the seventeenth century and learnt the art of tea drinking from the Chinese that it became established in Europe.
Many of the teas drunk in China are too delicate for exportation and much of it is grown simply for family consumption. In the country the cultivator has a small area planted with tea, the produce of which is roughly sun-dried and cured in a primitive manner. Any surplus not required for family use is sold to the “collector“ in its sun-dried state, and he takes it to the hong, where it is treated for exportation. Both green tea and black tea are grown on the same tea-plant, the only difference between them being in the method of preparation.
In the actual manufacturing of tea, after a somewhat long process of withering, rolling, etc., the pluckings, which consist of the stalk with the leaves and bud unseparated, are broken apart and sorted by mechanical sifters into the various grades and qualities, described as Orange Pekoe, Pekoe, Pekoe Souchong and Souchong. Besides these four classes, from which all fragments broken in the process of manufacture are sifted, we get the Broken Orange Pekoe, etc. Although these arc thought to be of inferior quality by many people, experts consider them better, as the more the leaf is broken up, the better it is upon infusion.
In China, tea is never drunk with milk and sugar, and among the finest of these particular teas are Soo Hang, Loong Toon, Teet Law Foong, Long Cheng (three different varieties), and Ching Mui.
Among the most popular for exportation are the different grades of Lapsang Souchong, Moning, Keemun, etc., which can be drunk with milk and sugar.
The Chinese drink tea before and after meals, and it is served in cups without handles or saucers, with a cover.