At the focal point of Chinese culture, tea has been used medicinally and celebrationally for over 4,000 years. Tea is consumed at almost every occasion: whether it be a wedding, family gathering or if you simply want to show a sign of respect to a guest. There are a huge variety of teas available in most supermarkets (and many small street stalls) around Wuhan. In many places you can treat the teas like a “pick n mix” – simply grab a small plastic bag and scoop the exact amount you want. You can find anything from leaves to beans, wheat teas, and fruit and flower teas. Each of them have their own unique health benefits, taste, and enticing aroma. So why not give them a try?
Red Date Tea
Red dates are high in minerals B1, B2 and potassium. They can be bought dried in bags from most places in China – simply combine with boiling water to create a tea. Add a little honey to the date tea to relieve a sore throat, or drink mixed with red beans to help with liver and stomach problems. According to ancient Chinese medicine, this tea with help to strengthen the Qi of the stomach and spleen. Additionally it is claimed to help soothe those with insomnia.
Green tea is the most standard beverage you’ll find here, with many different brands to choose from. However, if made too strong, green tea can be difficult for the unaccostumed drinker to swallow. Nonetheless, it has a gorgeous perfume-like scent, and if it’s not too bitter for you, there are some amazing health benefits from these leaves. Green tea has been proven to increase brain function, increase capacity for fat-burning, to contain antioxidants that reduce the risk of cancer, and to kill bacteria thereby improving all-round dental health. With all these benefits and more, it’s no wonder so many people here in China always carry a flask of green tea with them!
Made from the stems, buds, and leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, oolong tea is semi-oxidized and slightly fermented, giving it a taste between green tea and black tea. The most famous oolong comes from the Fuijan province of China, although there are many varieties. It tastes wonderful hot or cold, and has many good effects on health. It has been shown to boost metabolism, lower cholesterol, aid in digestion, strengthen bones, stabilise blood sugar, and even improve the condition of your skin.
Rose tea is fruity and fragrant. It is full of antioxidants and vitamin C. Thus, it the ideal drink when you’re sick and need an immune-system boost. It is also known as “beauty tea”, due to it’s fantastic effects on skin, hair and the reduction of acne. The vitamin C from the petals can help you fight infections and improve a sore throat, and it is also said to help with feelings of stress and anxiety. Rose tea is caffeine-free, which makes it the perfect late-night drink for a good night’s sleep.
Buckwheat tea is a traditional Chinese health remedy that has been said to have properties that fight several diseases, including improving the health of blood vessels, reducing cholesterol, and most importantly improving circulation to vital organs when consumed regularly. Buckwheat has almost no taste, so is often mixed with other teas or lemon to add flavour. It has a slightly tart taste if you use a lot in one cup, but this is easily masked by the mixing or by making a weaker brew. Buckwheat is all the rage in health shops and expensive food stores in the west now, so while you’re in China take advantage of its cheap price and wide availability in most everyday supermarkets. There are many varieties of buckwheat, including Bitter Buckwheat Tea and Black Buckwheat Tea.
Osmanthus flowers turn golden yellow when in full bloom, and gives off a strong natural fragrance. It has many uses. Not only is it used to make tea and wine because of its pleasant aroma, it can also be added to sweet dishes like pastries and lotus soup. Furthermore, it can accompany medicine to make it easier to swallow.
According to recent research, the tea contains health-enhancing micro-elements like Cobalt, Selenium and Manganese. These can help stimulate the brain and reduce drowsiness. It is also said to be a toxin-cleansing tea, helping to detox the body of harmful substances.
Another item you’ll see alongside the bags of other teas at a Chinese supermarket is bags of dried tangerine peel. Though you may not think of this as a “tea” exactly, it is used by many people in China to reduce cholesterol and reduce the risk of certain cancers. It is also said to cure motion sickness. The peel tea can be brewed alone for a tangy, orangey citrus taste, or added to hot black tea to add a little sweetness.
Goji Berry Tea
Goji berry tea is quite popular throughout China, and is said to be especially helpful for women. It is said to regulate body temperature, keeping heat within internal organs and thereby helping to keep people warm in the winter. Furthermore, it can give women energy during “hormonal times” by reducing menstrual pain. Despite, having had many old women here advise me of this (and give me packets and packets full of the stuff) I have no idea how true it is. But whether they do anything special to the body or not, these little berries give the water a sweet taste without using sugar, and make the water thicker to make a sweet soup-like tea. They are also perfectly safe to eat as you sip on your drink, providing good nutrients, and can be added to many different Chinese soups. These beans are pretty cheap too, at only between 10-15 Yuan for a large bag.
Chrysanthemum tea is made from flowers and is a deep beautiful golden-brown colour. It is fragrant and refreshing, and is an extremely potent herbal tea. It acts as a natural coolant, and was therefore used widely in the ancient Chinese medicinal science.
It has high amounts of vitamin A, which is helpful in treating skin conditions and increasing immunity to disease, and also contains vitamin C and calcium for increased bone strength. However, its most important property in China is its reputation for relieving respiratory problems, such as shortness of breath. As well drinking the flowers as tea, they can be used to make a tasty jelly dessert.
In the various shops and supermarkets around Wuhan you’ll also notice packs of sachets of mixed teas, which put together various combination of beans, flowers, fruits and sugar to promote different effects. For instance, the mix pictured below includes Black Buckwheat Tea, Chrysanthemum flowers, tangerine peel, red dates and sugar crystals.
Some claim to make the drinker beautiful, some say they promote health, and some are even labelled “anti-aging” teas. Though you may not believe all the claims on the packaging, many of these mixes are absolutely delicious and buying these sachets allows you to get the benefits of many of the different ingredients mentioned above without buying an individual pack of each.