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Steeped in tradition: Discovering Chinese tea

All kinds of tea at Sun's Organic Tea's

All kinds of tea at Sun's Organic Tea's and Herbs. Credit: All kinds of tea at Sun's Organic Tea's and Herbs.

From white to green, yellow to black, oolong to Pu-erh, tea is a staple of Chinese cuisine and an important part of the culture. This Chinese New Year, get a little closer to a symbolic, revered and delicious custom.

Tea serves many functions. You drink it, but it's also medicinal and brings people together.

"Serving teas to others is a way to offer peace, make friends, ask for forgiveness and show respect," said Lorna Kwan, owner of Sun's Organic Teas & Herbs.

There are many types of tea, but they actually all come from the same leaf.

"It's the way that the leaves are treated that gives them their color and flavor," said Aurelie Bessiere, general manager at Le Palais des Thés. "For white tea ... the tea leaves are simply withered and dried. For Chinese green tea, the tea leaves are roasted, which gives the tea notes of nuts and bread crust; by contrast, Japanese Green Tea leaves are steamed so the flavors are quite different. Oolong tea is semi-oxidated, while for black tea, the leaves are completely oxidated."

China is the only country that produces all colors of tea, Bessier said.
Tea was first discovered in China 5,000 years ago and for years was served only to emperors and royal families, according to Kwan.

Tea was introduced to the "common" people about 1,200 years ago, when Lu Yu of the Tang Dynasty authored the Cha Jing, or "Tea Bible."

And it's good for you.

"Drinking tea regularly has its health benefits," says David Wong, owner of McNulty's in the West Village.

Certified tea master Haiyan Grzelak agrees, noting that green tea may reduce the risk of heart disease and white tea is often used to relieve fever and stomach ache.

If you're new to Chinese tea, Le Palais des Thés is offering a selection of teas to introduce customers to the variety. Or, just stop by any of these shops and start a conversation.


Where to get your tea fix
-- Sun's Organic Teas & Herbs, 79 Bayard St., 212-566-3260,
-- Le Palais des Thes, 194 Columbus Ave. 646-664-1902 and 156 Prince St., 646-513-4369,
-- McNulty's, 109 Christopher St., 212-242-5351,

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