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Professor Liu is a tea expert based in Hong Kong. Credit: Professor Liu
President of Teaism Association Hong Kong
Guizhou Province Tea Culture Ambassador
Current President of China International Tea Art Association
Secretary-General of Hong Kong Tea Ceremony Association
Vice-Chairman of Hong Kong Tea Art Center and Senior Tea Ceremony Lecturer
Researcher, Honorary Director of China International Tea Culture Research Association (Hangzhou)
International Tea Art Teacher course coordinator/instructor and examiner.
Chairman of Jabbok Tea Shop

In many cultures, tea is much more than just a beverage. According to Chinese legend, Emperor Shennong used tea as medicine around 2700 B.C. In a Tang Dynasty book “Classic of Tea” written between 760 CE and 762 CE, Lu Yu mentioned tea can be used in treating headaches, tight chests, dry eyes, and other symptoms.

Professor Eliza Liu, a tea expert in Hong Kong who is also the President of the Teaism Association Hong Kong and Guizhou Province Tea Culture Ambassador, shares her unique insights on Chinese tea culture and the knowledge of tea with Wellness Journey.  

“Initially, tea was regarded as a kind of medicine. As time passed, it has become a common beverage.”

Professor Eliza Liu
Learn more about the properties of food and body constitutions in Wellness Journey Traditional Chinese Medicine Body Constitutions Masterclass.

Tea As Medicine

Different types of tea. Credit: Professor Liu

According to the mythological ancient text on agriculture and medicinal plants “Shennong Ben Cao Jing” 《神農本草經》, Shennong tested hundreds of plants on himself, tried 72 kinds of herbs in a day, and drank tea to detoxify. (神農嘗百草,一日遇七十二毒,得茶而解之)

The first known monograph on tea “Classic of Tea” is considered an important text on tea culture worldwide.

“Tea tempers the spirits and harmonizes the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness, lightens or refreshes the body, and clears the perceptive faculties.”

Lu Yu, Classic of Tea, Tang Dynasty

Tea has a history of thousands of years. In the Tang Dynasty book  “Classic of Tea,” author Lu Yu mentioned different kinds of tea and processes of making it. While the trend and culture started in the Tang Dynasty, it became more popular since the Song Dynasty.

“People always think tea culture started in Song Dynasty. In fact, it started even earlier in Tang Dynasty.”

According to King of Herbal Medicine Sun Simiao, tea is effective in treating headaches.

“People used to drink white tea to treat Measles because of its cold properties. White tea is good for treating fever in ancient times as well,” said Professor Liu.

A Qing Dynasty book also documented the medicinal use of white tea in ancient times. Growing in the Hongxue Cave of Taimu Mountain in China, White Hair Silver Needle tea has strong cold properties. The ancient book referred to it as a very effective method for treating Measles. (《閩小記》中載:「白毫銀針,產太姥山鴻雪洞,其性寒,功同犀角,是治麻疹之聖藥。)

The Art of Making Tea

“A good tea is a gift from nature.” 

Professor Eliza Liu

In terms of tea tasting,  Professor Liu mentioned six key factors of making a cup of good tea: weather, location, people, timing, temperature, volume (天、地、人、時間、水溫、茶量).

“Weather affects the texture of tea. Location affects the plantation of tea and their nutrient intake. People, meaning the quality of farmers and the person making tea.”

“Tea plants have a preference for high altitude with an optimal temperature of 16-18°C.”

“In a place of high altitude, there’s high concentration of oxygen in the mist. That’s why people say high mountains can nurture good tea. On the other hand, the air and water quality for tea farming at a lower altitude is less good. Therefore the tea from high mountain is usually more aromatic.”

Professor Eliza Liu

“A good tea is a gift from nature,” she said, adding that there are factors out of our control in tea farming, such as weather and unpredictable factors in nature.

“It is an art to use the right temperature and good volume of water, brewing for the right period of time in order to make your cup of tea.”

“Different types of tea have their optimal brewing time. For green tea, it is 80-85°C. As for half-fermented tea, the water temperature is the best at around 95°C.”

Benefits of Tea and Traditional Chinese Medicine

The characterization of tea can be roughly divided into six categories according to their process of making. Each tea carries its own properties and therefore has different benefits.

  • White tea
  • Green tea
  • Yellow tea
  • Oolong
  • Black tea
  • Dark tea

“Do you know which tea is the most effective in terms of keeping warm?”

Professor Liu

Professor Liu shared an interesting Japanese experient in which six different drinks- ginger tea, Amazake, hot cocoa, coffee, red tea, and green tea – were tested on their effects of keeping warm. 

Six participants of similar age were invited to drink six different 60°C drinks in a 20°C room.

“Red tea is the second-best on average for keeping warm for a prolonged period of time.”

“You may think ginger works best, but in fact, the warmth generated by the ginger tea goes off very quickly. Red tea in this case has a more long-lasting effect on keeping warm.”

Professor Liu

Although drinking tea has many good benefits, drinking too much tea may not necessarily be healthy from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective. The school of thought suggests that tea has cooling properties and the overconsumption of which may lead to an imbalanced Yin-yang energy in the body. 

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“There are many kinds of tea in the world, you can choose those that suit your body,” said Professor Liu, adding that different people may react differently to the same tea. The key is to find the tea and habit that best suits your body.

“The optimal time of drinking tea varies on people. For some, they may experience insomnia if they drink before sleep. Then those people can drink it earlier.”

Culture of Tea

“Dim cha” (點茶)is a tea art that is popular in ancient China during the Song Dynasty. Credit: Professor Liu
Professor Liu taught her students how to do the Song Dynasty “dim cha” in class. Credit: Professor Liu

In China, the spirit of tea culture is a combination of making tea and enjoying tea. Its cultural connotation and etiquette formed distinctive Chinese cultural characteristics.

In Song Dynasty, the art of ‘dim cha’ became popular. It is a technique similar to coffee art, in which people can use tools to create patterns or painting on the foam.

Tea culture is deeply rooted in Chinese society and was commonly consumed on different occasions. For example, newly married couples have to serve tea with both hands to their parents in the wedding ceremony as a gesture of respect.

“Back then, people could even draw a landscape painting on the surface of the tea. Besides drinking it, people were incorporating the culture in tea,” she said. “Drinking tea was as popular as drinking coffee nowadays.”