Reputedly discovered by Emperor Shennong in 2737 BC, tea has been synonymous with Chinese culture for thousands of years. Shiploads of it passed through Hong Kong on its way to Europe, where it would go on to become Britain’s national drink. Tea is usually served with meals in Chinese restaurants and, for many visitors, the most memorable flavour of Hong Kong will be flower or green tea.
From the gentle aroma of chrysanthemum tea to the more complex flavours of green tea, people in Hong Kong use a wide variety of brews for all sorts of reasons: to quench their thirst, to aid digestion, for health benefits and as an ingredient in many dishes. Hong Kong has a large variety of teas imported from different Chinese provinces and cities, such as Fujian's Tie-guan-yin tea, Hangzhou's Dragon Well tea and Yunnan's Pu-erh tea. A popular one from Taiwan is Don-ding Oolong tea.
As one of the first remedies to be reached for in the event of a cold, sore throat or even acne, herbal tea is a quintessential part of Hong Kong life. Many herbal teas are believed to expel heat from the body, which makes them a popular way to combat the sticky humidity of the Hong Kong climate. ‘Bitter 24 Varieties’, Love Pea-Vine Tea and Mixed Herb Tea are just some of the more popular types, and are believed to help alleviate everything from bad breath to liver disease.
Traditionally, herbal teas are sold at specialised herbal tea shops, which also often serve health tonics. These shops can still be found in Hong Kong; Kung Lee has been serving patrons in Central since 1948, as has the 100-year-old Good Spring Company. Due to the popularity of herbal teas in Hong Kong, they can also be found in countless plastic bottles on the shelves of supermarkets, sharing space with the world’s most popular soft drinks.
Buying Chinese tea
Readily available in department stores, supermarkets, speciality tea shops and tea houses, Chinese tea makes a great gift, especially when it’s charmingly wrapped in traditional packaging. Tea is available in a variety of forms, including loose tea, cakes of tea, tea bricks or tea lumps, and the leaves are graded according to their natural colour, aroma and lustre.