China has enjoyed a close affinity with tea for thousands of years, with the drink deeply embedded in the nation's culture and traditions.
Tea is prevalent throughout Chinese society and often plays a central role during family gatherings, in which it's common to gather either at home or at a restaurant for the soul purpose of enjoying a warm brew. Other social events or celebrations, such as weddings, tend to include a tea ceremony designed to celebrate the bonding of two families.
Tea is also used by China's younger generations as a way of showing respect to ones elders, simply by pouring them a cup. The same gesture can also be used to issue an apology to a friend or family member.
As the world's largest tea producing nation, China grows over one million tons of black, green, white and oolong teas each year. Tea plantations are spread around the country, although the majority are found in the southern and eastern parts.
Having been originally used for medicinal purposes, tea has today become a part of everyday life in China and is served everywhere from private homes to dedicated tea houses and street vendors.
The climate in southern China lends itself well to black, oolong and white tea production, with the warm temperatures enabling the growing season to last for ten months. The Jiangnan region, meanwhile, has the highest concentration of plantations. The wet springs and dry autumns in this particular area is conducive to producing a variety of flavours.
Popular teas include the Lapsang Souchong, a black tea renowned for its smoky aroma and flavour which is achieved by drying the leaves over pine wood fires.
Tea is such a fundamental part of everyday life in China that you'll be able to experience aspects of Chinese tea culture no matter where you travel in the country – from purchasing a refreshing cup from street vendors in the heart of Beijing, to being welcomed with a hospitable brew by friendly locals. If you're interested in viewing authentic Chinese tea plantations, include a visit to Nanjing on your itinerary – the ancient southern capital lies in the midst of the prime tea producing region of Jiangsu, and is particularly known for its delicately flavoured Yuhua tea.