Gunpowder Green Tea

Also known as pearl tea, gunpowder green tea comes from the Zhejiang Province of China, where it was first produced during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD). The tea leaves are tightly-rolled into small pellets, a tradition that began as a way to preserve freshness during long voyages overseas. Because the “pearls” resemble grains of black gunpowder once used as ammunition, the English gave the tea its moniker of “gunpowder” in the 18th century.

Today, gunpowder green tea is rolled by machine instead of by hand and is also produced in Sri Lanka and Taiwan. It is also exported in quantity to the Maghreb region of North Africa, where it is used combined with spearmint or peppermint to make Moroccan mint teas that are central to social tea rituals. The tea is often enjoyed cold, throughout the day and evening as well as with meals. It is also sold by street venders on every corner in Marrakech. In the home, when guests arrive, it is traditionally and ceremoniously prepared and served by the oldest male of the household. Be warned that should you visit the region and find yourself as someone’s house guest, you can expect to be served at least three small glasses of mint tea. Note too that it is considered an insult to refuse the tea or the host’s hospitality. (A similar protocol exists in Indian households with the preparation and serving of chai.)

Unlike most green teas, gunpowder tea yields a deep amber color and a bold, smoky flavor. The astringency of the leaves lends a slightly pungent character, which is tempered with a small amount of mint, stevia or organic cane sugar.

In China, tea is brewed in a lidded cup called a gaiwan.

Brewing Tips …

  • Use spring water for best flavor and to avoid contaminants.

  • Boil the water to 175 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Use about 1 teaspoon tea for each 6 ounces of water.

  • Steep, covered, for at least 2 full minutes.

  • Brew in a porcelain vessel large enough to accommodate the tea leaves as they unfurl (although it is fun to watch this happen through a clear glass teapot).

  • A light foam on the tea is desirable and is achieved by pouring high above the drinking vessel.

Gunpowder green tea pairs well with vegetables, chicken, beef, pork and seafood. And you can cook with it!

Gunpowder Shrimp

The brightness of citrus and the earthy flavor of gunpowder green tea create an explosion of flavor in this simple recipe. Serve it over a bed of greens, steamed rice or noodles.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons orange zest

2 cups of gunpowder tea

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons raw honey

2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce

¼ cup fresh orange juice

12 to 18 large shrimp, cleaned

Melt the butter in a skillet and sauté the garlic just until fragrant. Add the orange zest and cook, while stirring, for a few seconds. Stir in the tea, vinegar, honey, tamari and orange juice and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Add shrimp and cook another 2 minutes. Serve with additional orange segments, if desired.

Moroccan Mint Tea

In Morocco, mint tea is served in small heat-proof cups that look similar to shot glasses.

5 cups spring water

1 heaping tablespoon gunpowder green tea

1 teaspoon dried peppermint or spearmint leaf

Pinch of sugar or stevia (optional)

Boil the water. Pour about a cup into the teapot and swish it around to warm the pot. Add the green tea, mint and sweetener, if using, to the teapot. Cover with the remaining boiled water and let steep for 2 or 3 minutes. Serve with fresh mint sprigs, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

Updated 4/15/19

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