Gunpowder Green Tea


   It was a favorite of Emperor Kang Xi and it became an Imperial Tribute tea.

Despite its explosive-sounding name…

Gunpowder tea is not actually made of gunpowder! Gunpowder is one of the best-known and most liked of all the standard green teas. The tea originates in the Zhejiang province of China. It was first created in Pingshui, which is in the Zheijing Province. As a main gunpowder tea producing area, Pingshui is a town located in the southeast of Shaoxing City, Zhejiang province. In the past, local factories in Pingshui collected dried tea leaves which just went through preliminary processing from neighboring areas for refinement process before exporting finished tea to foreign countries. Pingshui gunpowder won popularity abroad and people call Pingshui “the hometown of gunpowder”. According to historical records, between 1843 and 1894,its export reached a peak, hitting 200,000 dan (one dan being 50kg) and the gunpowder price on the London market was second only to Wu Yi Oolong tea, another kind of tea from China and also a favorite in Europe at that time.

 This area is known as part of the “Green Tea Golden Triangle…

As the climate and altitude are prime for green tea growth and production.  The leaves of this green tea are rolled into the shape of little pinhead pellets. The grey-green balls are known as zucha or “pearl tea” to the Chinese. In the 1600’s buyers for the Dutch East India in China thought the rolled leaves looked like gunpowder the  hence its name.  It takes a special skill to roll tea leaves into this unusual shape. Because they are so tightly rolled, these little pellets keep exceptionally well which is rare for a high -quality green tea.  The traditional method of rolling young tea leaves is especially laborious, but these small green pearls preserve the tea aroma better than any other green tea. When hot water is poured over the Gunpowder tea leaves, they first rise to the surface, and then during brewing gracefully descend to the bottom of the cup and open up like the petals of a flower while giving the water a beautiful green color. Some say that the tea explodes during brewing like gunpowder! Exploding tea – go figure.

A little history…

It was one of the first Chinese teas to be exported in the early 1600’s. By the 1700’s it was extremely popular in Europe and the Colonies and was marketed under the names Green Pearl Bohea and Hyson. It was probably the Hyson tea that kept Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and George Washington focused on their cause of American independence and the common good. Jefferson was known to go through over 20 pounds of the highest quality Hyson annually. By 1860, almost two-thirds of tea imported in the U.S., was Gunpowder green tea. The name Bohea was discontinued and the name Hyson eventually was used only for varieties with a long, twisted leaf rather than the pearl shape.


When hot water is added, the little balls unfold gracefully and produce a flavorful dark green brew with a unique fragrance and a delightful, lingering aftertaste. Its popularity is perhaps due to how easy and forgiving this green tea is to steep.  It’s simple to measure, it tolerates a wide range of water temperatures and is interesting to watch steep.  It can usually be steeped a second time, depending on the duration of the first infusion.  Gunpowder tea is also the base tea used for Morocco’s famous Moroccan Mint tea.

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 quite 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.

Next… Gunpowder in my cup

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