Gunpowder Green is a particularly global tea. It’s important in China, in Northern Africa, and in Britain. How is this tea so popular in so many places? It’s due to its particularly ancient design.
Before tea was sold and transported as loose piles of fragrant, dried leaves, tea was sold in bricks of compressed leaves. This is because carrying tea from where it was grown, to all of the places which wanted to consume it, took months, if not years, and compressing the tea into bricks was the only way to keep it from becoming stale during the journey. However, as shipping methods improved, from caravans of horses and camels to better caravans of horses and camels, and the occasional ship, the tea could be stored in a less damaging way. Leaves which were tightly rolled took a great deal of effort to process, as each and every leaf had to be rolled by hand. However, those rolled leaves retained excellent flavor, as they unfurled into full leaves when they were brewed. And, because they were tightly rolled, they could travel for much longer than loose leaves before going stale.
The Chinese called the tea “pearl tea,” because, to them, the round, rolled leaves looked like pearls. The British called the tea “gunpowder tea,” because to them, it looked like gunpowder. Regardless of what it was called, gunpowder green traveled well. It was like every leaf was neatly packaged in more of itself. And these neatly wrapped teas became extremely popular in Britain.
Black tea eventually became the British tea of choice, because it was able to withstand traveling halfway around the world, and still taste fresh. However, black tea wasn’t popular in China before the British found a taste for it. It was developed specifically to be able to travel that far. Thus, before black tea existed, gunpowder green was the tea which traveled best. It became such a mainstay of British culture that this Victorian-era tea is a popular drink to this day.
The other part of the world which came to love gunpowder green was Northern Africa. In the Maghreb, this tea became as essential to day to day life as both coffee and beer in America, combined. When you asked someone out to drinks, that drink was tea. In fact, it still is to this day. And, to this day, the tea which North Africans prefer is Gunpowder Green. It is typically enjoyed there with a bit of mint, to freshen it up. We talk about this fresh, summertime beverage at length in this post, if you’re interested.
This tea tends to be made with the larger, older leaves of the plant. It has a richer, fuller taste than most green teas. Because it has been rolled up to survive anything, it should be brewed at a higher temperature than most teas- just shy of boiling is ideal. Feel like traveling? Bring the tea that travels best.