— Song Dynasty Poem about Hei Cha
What is Hei Cha?
Hei cha translates as "black tea." It's also sometimes referred to as "dark tea" to not confuse it with "black tea" in the West. That's right, China's true black tea. The history of this tea goes back over 1000 years. Although, with time, the processing methods of hei cha have evolved. Nevertheless, this tea is still highly revered throughout China as a regional specialty and a historical attribute.
Originally hei cha was produced for export on the Silk Road to territories along China's borders. The tea was always compressed into cakes for ease of transportation and freshness.
Hei cha is a fully oxidized tea (just like black tea), which is then fermented (taking it a step past black tea).
Hei Cha is an ancient tea with a rich tea history. For example, the original processing techniques of Liu Bao Hei Cha served as the basis for modern-day Ripe Pu erh preparation.
Read more: The Difference Between Hei Cha and Pu-erh.
Every type of hei cha is fully oxidized and further fermented using wet piling. However, the intrinsic processing techniques vary depending on the kind of hei cha and where it's produced.
Hei Cha has a very dark color. The taste is sweet and woodsy. You'll notice it has zero astringency. Hei Cha is best when aged for several years, although young hei cha is also an enjoyable treat.
We recommend trying it both ways. Perhaps purchase some young hei cha, try it, and leave it to age. Note how the taste transforms.
Read more: How To Age Tea At Home.
Those trying hei cha for the first time will surely be surprised by its sweet and mellow taste—a very unexpected trait, considering its dark and rustic appearance and pungent aroma.
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Where Is Hei Cha Produced?
Unlike pu-erh, hei cha is not a regionally-specific tea. It can be produced anywhere, as long as the climate and terroir allow it. However, each variety of hei cha is particular to its origin. For example, Liu Bao Hei Chai, which originates in Guangxi province, will never be produced in any other region.
Every type of Hei Cha is associated with a particular place of origin in China and are not produced anywhere else in China. The local standards for hei cha production make each tea unique and like no other.
Most "dark tea" is produced in China's southern and central provinces. Some common places for hei cha production are Hunan, Anhui, Guangxi, Yunnan, Sichuan, and Hubei provinces.
Hei Cha And Traditional Chinese Medicine
From a medicinal standpoint, hei cha is much valued in Traditional Chinese Medicine practices. It's a warming tea and is good for igniting our internal fire. This in turn, promotes good digestion. For this reason, it is ok to drink hei cha on an empty stomach.
Hei cha is excellent to drink during the winter months. It warms the body and keeps illness at bay.
Dark tea is an essential drink in Northwest China and other cold, mountainous regions along China's borders. Since the diet of the people inhabiting these regions contains a lot of meat and fat, hei cha is essential to cut the grease and balance the body. It plays a vital role in easing the digestion system.
Furthermore, the fermented properties of Hei Cha can improve the microorganism environment in our digestive system.
How To Brew Hei Cha
Similarly to pu-erh, the darker the tea — the better. A quality Liu Bao won't be phased by a bit of extra tea leaf, using boiling water, or even over-steeping. On the contrary, it might make it even more robust and delicious. Try adding a bit more leaf than you are used to, or steep the tea a bit longer. Aim for a really dark, almost entirely black tea liquor.
Try to follow the brewing instructions of the particular hei cha variety you are making. Generally, a 212℉ / 100℃ water temperature is used.
Another common preparation method is bringing the tea leaves up to a boil in a pot, then letting them steep while cooling. The hot temperature doesn't harm the tea or extract any bitterness. Instead, this method only enhances the tea's nutritional value. Hei cha is a straightforward tea to brew and can be both cooked and steeped as usual. Read more.
Read more: A Historical Tea: Liu Bao Hei Cha