Tea has been a very important element of daily life in China for hundreds of years. Green tea, black tea, flower tea, yellow tea - the varieties are as impressive as the manner in which they are served.
Dark tea was scarcely known in most places in China until recently, and it seems it is now its turn to shine.
Dark tea has been an essential part of Mongolian milk tea for centuries, and it is a central part of life in the Tibet Autonomous Region, where it is drunk by the bowlful in the form of butter tea, and nomads may consume up to 40 cups of the drink daily. Dark tea is made from rough, old tea leaves which darken to a deep brown during the long fermentation process.
Dark tea has a long history in China. It is said that as early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when Princess Wencheng was married to Songtsen Gampo of the Yarlung Dynasty of Tibet, tea was brought to the region for the first time and was warmly received by the local people.
As Sichuan Province was nearest, it became the most preferred source of tea. In order to transport the product conveniently, Sichuan people invented a way to compress the tea into tightly packed bricks, and during the long treks the tea aged and became wet from the weather, resulting in this double fermentation process.
Fortunately, these days Chinese people have begun to seek out foods with specific health benefits, and thus have been drawn to these dark drinks.
Di Lu Man Lu, a book written by Tan Xiu during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), recorded that "only dark tea can help digest the raw meat people eat and only it can be used to reduce fever of highland barley."
According to modern science, after the long fermentation process, dark tea produces a polysaccharide compound which helps adjust the glycometabolism of the body, reduces body fat and lowers blood pressure so as to prevent and even cure cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, which many modern people today suffer from. It can also prevent cancer and diminish inflammation.
"In ancient times, Chinese people living in central areas rarely had these health problems as their diet was comparatively light, so they didn't pay much attention to the medicinal value of dark tea," said Xing Guanghui, a tea expert .
"But people living in remote areas, due to lack of fresh vegetables, were accustomed to eating a lot of meat and needed something to counteract the heavy fat. Nowadays most Chinese people ingest too much fat and oil, and many suffer from certain diseases as a result. That's why it has taken us so much time to see the glory of dark tea."
As rough as dark tea is, bowl-shaped cups are the best vessel for them. And spring water or well water containing minerals is preferred. The temperature of the water should be at the boiling point when added to the tea, and it can be allowed to steep for a long time.