The Secret History Of Gunpowder Tea

Enjoy the benefits of gunpowder tea when you purchase this flavorful variety at Tea Forté.

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Gunpowder tea is thought of as a quintessentially British beverage, but this green tea's roots lie deep within Chinese history. Gunpowder is a rolled tea, meaning the leaves are formed into tiny beads before drying. This prolongs the life of the tea — with proper care, some varieties of these rolled teas can last for years.

Origins of Rolled Teas

The practice of rolling tea leaves began sometime during the Tang dynasty, a time of great artistic and cultural achievement, which lasted from 618 to 907. The tea is first withered, and then steamed. The softened leaves are rolled by hand while they are still pliable, and then dried to preserve them. The process creates a small bead of tea, thus gaining the nickname "pearl tea." The advantage of rolling is twofold: the leaves are less likely to be broken, and the reduced surface area helps maintain their flavor and aroma.

Early Use of Rolled Tea

Rolling prolonged the life of the tea, so that it could be stored and shipped to other parts of China. During the Tang and Sung dynasties the balls of tea were ground and formed into bricks. Pieces would be broken off the brick, then ground and whisked into hot water. This became an important part of life among the upper classes, with special tools and learned treatises. The rituals surrounding tea making at this time eventually crossed over to Japan, where they evolved into the famous Tea Ceremony. Tea bricks were gradually replaced with dried leaves, but are still used in Mongolia, Tibet and other remote areas.

From One Empire to Another

By the time the British arrived in China in the 17th century, the practice of steeping leaves to make tea was commonplace. Rolled tea was popular because it retained more of its flavor and aroma. The tiny pellets resembled the gunpowder used in British cannons, hence the name Gunpowder Tea. Since it was easy to ship, this tea quickly made its way to Britain.

A Tea of Worldwide Importance

Gunpowder tea has an important place in North African culture, where it is used in Maghrebi, or Tuareg, mint tea. The head of the household prepares this beverage to honor guests. The process is very different from other brewing methods: the tea is steeped for 15 minutes or more, then boiled with sugar and steeped again with mint leaves. It is poured from high above the glass — not a cup — so that a froth is formed. At least three glasses must be taken, and it is a serious insult to refuse.

How to Use Tea Forte Gunpowder Tea

The distinctive balled leaves make this tea different from most other loose teas. Use water just below the boiling point. As the tea rehydrates, the pellets "pop" and the leaves unfurl to release their essence. Always use an infuser that gives the tea room to open up. The finished brew will be golden in color with a pleasing aroma of fresh leaves.

Tea Forte China Gunpowder is hand rolled in the traditional method. It is sourced from Zhejiang sProvince, where the finest teas of this kind are grown.

China Gunpowder
Hand-rolled “pearl tea” with distinctive oak taste.