For better or for worse, it’s pretty much agreed that it was the Chinese who first came up with gunpowder, probably at least a thousand years ago. You could go one step further and make the argument that the Chinese were responsible for inventing two types of gunpowder. There’s the kind that’s used for shooting, blowing things up and whatnot, and there’s the more easygoing kind that’s reserved for drinking.
That would be gunpowder tea, of course. It’s a variety of green tea that’s most commonly produced in Zhejiang Province, in China, though tea processed in this style may be found in modest quantities in other tea-growing regions. The origins of gunpowder tea are not completely clear but it is thought to have originated sometime during the Tang Dynasty, which may actually mean that the predates the other kind of gunpowder, the kind you can’t drink.
There’s also no real consensus on how gunpowder tea came by its name, but it’s very likely that it has something to do with the fact that the leaves are tightly rolled into small balls during the processing stage. This was something that used to be done by hand in days of yore but is more likely now to be a task assigned to a machine. As for the name, it may also have something to do with the fact that gunpowder tea typically has a strong, somewhat smoky flavor that’s a bit reminiscent of gunpowder.
The Chinese themselves are said to not be all that fond of gunpowder tea, but it’s quite popular in various other countries around the world and probably more so than any other in parts of northern Africa, where the British introduced it in the nineteenth century. Here one of the standard beverages of choice is made with gunpowder tea, fresh mint leaves and sugar.
Here in the United States, we’ve never been much renowned for our tea drinking, but gunpowder tea was apparently well known here as far back as the early nineteenth century. For proof of this, check out exhibit A, a rousing patriotic song from 1813, called Gunpowder Tea.
© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.