For centuries, the tea industry in China has been booming, with the nation presently boasting around 35% of the world’s tea production. During these hundreds of years, China and the world of tea have shared a close and personal bond, with many elements of Chinese culture adapting tea consumption into their historic rituals and routines including Gunpowder Tea, which you can find our below.
Gunpowder Tea, the History of an Amazing Tea
One such blend to share an ancient yet fond connection to Chinese history is that of Gunpowder Loose Tea, which originated from the Zhejiang province during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) To this day, the Zhejiang province is one of the most important Chinese provinces for tea production, both in quantity and quality, but over 1000 years ago, Zhejiang was one of the wealthiest areas in China with the production of popular blends such as Dragon Well Tea (or ‘Long Jing,’) Anji Bai Cha, and of course Gunpowder tea.
Known in China as ‘zhu cha,’ the English name was allegedly derived from an English port clerk who described the blend as having a great resemblance to that of actual gunpowder. This is because the leaves used for the tea are carefully processed into small pellets, similar in appearance to the gunpowder pellets used in weapons such as muskets and early rifles. There are other lesser known theories to the origin of the name, such as the English term stemming from the Mandarin Chinese phrase “freshly brewed.” Spoken in its correct dialect, the phrase “freshly brewed” sounds like the English word “gunpowder,” but whichever story you choose to believe, the name is now firmly associated with the tea and has since reached beyond the Zhejiang province and China itself.
Gunpowder tea was first introduced to Taiwan in the 19th Century by British entrepreneur, John Dodd. In 1869, bushes from the Fijian province, China, were planted near the city of Keelung, which happened to coincide with a large influx of Chinese immigrants entering the country. These immigrants came equipped with centuries of tea making skills passed down by generations before them and with their immense knowledge; they helped to boost Taiwan’s tea industry. The near tropical climate of Taiwan makes for perfect growing conditions, with the Taiwanese blend of ‘Formosa Gunpowder’ largely considered to be of better quality than its Chinese counterparts. This reasonably modern blend is still created using the same Chinese processes of first withering, then steaming, rolling and finally drying the tea leaves. Upon brewing, the Gunpowder Formosa Green Tea has a lighter taste than many Chinese blends but also carries a slight smokey note.
As the gunpowder tea market continued to boom in the latter half of the 19th Century, ever-growing tensions between Great Britain and China saw other countries taking on the production with their own individual takes on the blend. Countries such as Sri Lanka would produce their own ‘Ceylon Gunpowder tea,’ with other variants cropping up across Asia in a bid to fill the gap in the declining Chinese market. Despite this period of instability, gunpowder tea continued to be a popular brew in the farthest reaches of the world. This included the United States, where up until 1900, Gunpowder Tea comprised around 60% of American total tea imports.
Here at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, we take pleasure in bringing to light some of the most extraordinary stories behind our tea whilst ensuring that every time you pick up one of our products, you can be sure its history is almost as enchanting as its taste.