Unlike other people, experienced tea drinkers are ready to have a cup of their beloved artisan tea in virtually any season. Indeed, once a person embarks on their tea journey, they soon discover tea can be a year-round drink to enjoy at any given time. While preferences towards one or another tea are strictly a matter of personal taste, each of the six main tea types has unique properties that reveal themselves best in a particular set of circumstances. As most of us living in the Northern hemisphere are amid wintertime, let's dive deeper into the most suitable teas to have during those colder days of the year.
The benefits of tea in wintertime
Tea is, without a doubt, a great drink to have all year round. It accompanies us in our daily lives, providing soothing comfort, replenishing our strengths, and helping us gain clarity and concentration in our busy lives. Whether one enjoys a teabag steeped in a big mug or prefers a gong fu cha style infusion, its benefits are apparent. Some people start their day with a steaming hot cup of green tea to clear their minds and get that antioxidant boost at the very start of their day. Some like to satisfy their sweet tooth or meet up with a friend over a cup of black tea. Some reach out for their preferred tisane as a first-aid remedy for a cough, runny nose, or any other seasonal malaise. Whatever the reason, everyone feels the goodness the tea ritual brings into our daily lives.
Tea has been revered as a medicine as early as the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 CE) and throughout the Sui dynasty (581-618) in Ancient China. It has become an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine and has evolved and developed along the ages. Hey, it's no other than the father of the TCM, the divine farmer Shen Nong, who gets the credits for discovering tea, so it can't be a coincidence, right?
TCM has pronounced recommendations on suitable foods, drinks, tonics, and preventive measures that follow the seasonal cycles to counteract the dangers each season poses on human health and keep the human body in a balanced state and best possible shape. Wintertime can be a particularly challenging season throughout the immense territories of China. The wet and windy winters in southern provinces cause excessive cold and moisture accumulation in the body. The snowy blizzards in the north account for a shorter farming season and limit the plant food intake in higher altitude regions. Through the ages, tea has been helping to address these problems, along with many others. It's no wonder it earned a highly respected status among other TCM remedies as "a cure for 10 000 illnesses". Now let's dive deeper into the Chinese teas that hold the most benefits for the human body during wintertime.
Which teas are most appropriate to drink during the winter? In a nutshell, these are teas with a higher degree of oxidation, fermentation, and aging time.
According to TCM, summertime is good for nourishing the yin, while wintertime is the season to nourish the yin and accumulate energy in the body. According to TCM, yang and yin are the counteracting life forces that create and sustain the vital energy, or qi, in all living and non-living things. Keeping those forces in proper balance is a prerequisite for being healthy. The winter teas need to possess a balanced and mild inner character to exert a warming and restorative effect on the human body and sustain its vital energy.
The highly oxidized and fermented teas fight the accumulation of excessive cold during the winter months and make up for vitamins and phytonutrients loss. Aged teas' balanced inner character gently warms the body and supports the functioning of the main digestive organs and systems.
1. Black tea
According to TCM, Europe's long-time favorite is the go-to tea for wintertime.
Black tea – also called "red" throughout Asia ("hong cha" in China) – is one of the six main tea types and the only one where the tea leaves undergo complete oxidation to create the finished product. After picking, the tea leaves undergo a phase of rolling (or kneading, also called róuniǎn), where the walls of cells in the tea leaves are torn or crushed mechanically, with the help of a machine or by hand. This serves both functions of extracting the excessive water and speeding up the process of enzyme activation and subsequent oxidation. While this dramatically diminishes the content of fresh antioxidants in the leaves, the byproducts of this process have their healing and restorative properties for the human body.
Black tea is rich in complex sugar compounds (polysaccharides) and has a widespread reputation for gently assisting the digestive system without irritating the sensitive stomach mucus. So much so that this is the only tea recommended for morning drink in China, where people tend to avoid drinking highly stimulating teas like green tea on an empty stomach, especially in the morning. Black tea gets credits for warming up the abdomen, assisting the digestion of heavier and greasier foods that dominate our menu during the colder months, and enhancing the body's resistance to the common cold. All of the black tea's goodness comes in an addictive bouquet of flavors to top it up. It is precisely black tea that has earned its spot in the Top 3 of most fragrant teas globally! Its overflowing aroma covers the whole spectrum from honey and sweet flowers to the deep, authentic notes of classic Lapsang Souchong from the core production area of TongMuGuan in Fujian's WuYi Mountain.
2. Hei Cha (incl. shou pu-erh)
Another favorite for the chilly season, hei cha (or "dark tea") is a special kind of fermented tea common in China. It has a long history inextricably intertwined with this Chinese state from ancient times. The unique production method involves fermentation on top of oxidation, producing a special kind of tea that the rest of the world is just starting to appreciate. Hei Cha dominated the bustling trade in the bordering regions of the kingdom, catering to the needs of the local minority groups. This helped turn dark tea into a staple product; it provided much-needed warmth during the long cold season and made up for the deficiency in vitamins and phytonutrients.
The border minorities have traditionally inhabited the high-altitude areas, where the climate is harsh and the food is insufficient. In the unwelcome mountainous realms, few – if any – crops could survive. As a rule, people from those regions have been subjected to a poor and unvaried diet, dominated by heavier, harder-to-digest foods and lacking essential nutrients. Enter the dark tea. Its one-of-a-kind fermentation process creates a unique combination of good bacteria that breaks down accumulated fat and balances the intestinal microbiome. It is those minority groups that invented the well-known proverb "Better three days without food than a single day without tea."
Due to its unique ingredients, Hei Cha has assisted people through the ages in regulating digestion, helping decompose heavier foods like meat and dairy, and eliminating the accumulated waste and toxins in the intestinal tract.
Hei Cha is also probably the most exported tea by Chinese immigrants who set off to Southeast Asia's neighborhood countries of Malaysia, Singapore, and the likes, creating a unique culture around this kind of tea. Apart from its health benefits, its unmistakable aroma has ignited sweet memories for centuries and remained a symbol of love and nostalgia for the beloved homeland.
The participation of water in this tea creation process creates a unique aromatic blend that is not present in other teas. Those who haven't tried it before might want to give its distinctive earthy, mossy flavor some repeated tastings. Hei Cha tends to be an acquired taste, and your palate might need some education before fully discovering and appreciating it. However, this tea type has one of the most ardent fan bases among all six tea types. Its complex, constantly evolving nature and a vast array of subtypes will never cease to surprise you. You can discover how it unveils its aroma layers one by one within the same tasting session. You can equally track down how it transforms with each year of storage and never get tired of tasting its many representatives, each carrying its signature bouquet of flavors and aromatic nuances.
To know this special fermented tea, try Liu Bao Hei Cha, Guangxi's signature dark tea, with its deep earthy undertones and hints of red date and tobacco that gradually evolve through the years. For a more advanced experience, why not have a taste of a ripe Pu'erh from ancient trees with a bouquet of ripe fruits and berries and its wonderfully spicy and slightly earthy aroma.
Next week, in part two of this blog post, we'll dive into the rest of the teas recommended to drink in wintertime. Meanwhile, put knowledge into practice, brew a pot of black tea or shou pu-erh and let us know how it worked for you!