Gunpowder tea (珠茶; pinyin: zhū chá) is a form of green Chinese tea produced in Zhejiang Province of China in which each leaf has been rolled into a small round pellet. It is believed to take its English name from the fact that the tea resembles grains of black powder. This rolling method of shaping tea is most often applied either to dried green tea (the most commonly encountered variety outside China) or Oolong tea.
|Other names:||Lo Chu Ch’a, Zhu Cha, 珠茶|
|Origin:||Zhejiang Province China and others|
|Quick description:||Popular worldwide. Flavor varies according to the growing location of tea used for production|
Gunpowder tea production dates back to the Tang Dynasty 618–907. It was first introduced to Taiwan in the 19th century. Gunpowder tea leaves are withered, steamed, rolled, and then dried. Although the individual leaves were formerly rolled by hand, today most gunpowder tea is rolled by machines (though the highest grades are still rolled by hand). Rolling renders the leaves less susceptible to physical damage and breakage and allows them to retain more of their flavor and aroma. In addition, it allows certain types of oolong teas to be aged for decades if they are cared for by being occasionally roasted.
When buying gunpowder tea it is important to look for shiny pellets, which indicate that the tea is relatively fresh. Pellet size is also associated with quality, larger pellets being considered a mark of lower quality tea. High quality gunpowder tea will have small, tightly rolled pellets.
When sold as a variety of tea, gunpowder tea has several varieties:
- Pingshui gunpowder (平水珠茶): The original and most common variety of gunpowder tea with larger pearls, better color, and a more aromatic infusion, which is commonly sold as Temple of Heaven Gunpowder or Pinhead Gunpowder, the former, a common brand of this tea variety.
- Formosa gunpowder: A gunpowder style tea grown in Taiwan near Keelung, it is claimed to have its own characteristic aroma, different from that of Zhejiang Province gunpowder grown in mainland China. Formosa gunpowder teas are typically fresh or roasted oolongs.
- Ceylon gunpowder: A gunpowder variant grown in Sri Lanka, usually at altitudes exceeding 1,800 metres (6,000 ft), see Green Ceylon teas.
The origin of the English term may come from the tea’s similarity in appearance to actual gunpowder: greyish, dark pellets of irregular shape used as explosive propellant for early guns. The name may also have arisen from the fact that the grey-green leaf is tightly rolled into a tiny pellet and “explodes” into a long leaf upon being steeped in hot water. Another explanation is that the tea can also have a smoky flavor.
While brewing methods vary widely by tea and individual preferences, 1 teaspoon of looseleaf tea is recommended for every 150ml (5.07 oz) of water. Ideal water temperature for this type of tea is between 70 °C (158 °F) to 80 °C (176 °F). For the first and second brewing, leaves should be steeped for around one minute. It is also recommended that the tea cup or tea pot used should be rinsed with hot water prior to brewing the tea to warm the vessels. When brewed, gunpowder tea is a yellow color.
The flavor of brewed gunpowder tea is often described as thick and strong like a soft honey, but with a smokey flavor and an aftertaste that is slightly coppery. This type of tea is often seen as having a flavor that is somewhat grassy, minty, or peppery.
Use in the Maghreb
Gunpowder tea is exported to the Maghreb where it is used in the preparation of traditional North African mint tea. The Moroccan tea ritual is at the heart of any social gathering, from an informal visit to a neighbour to lavish soirees with dignitaries. A minimum of two cups need to be drunk so as not to offend the host. Moroccan mint tea is made by adding mint and sugar or honey to gunpowder tea after brewing.