Chinese tea consists of tea leaves which have been processed using methods inherited from China. According to popular legend, tea was discovered by Chinese Emperor Shennong (Shen Nung, Shen Nong, The Yan Emperor, The Emperor of the five grains) in 2737 BCE when a leaf from a Camilla sinensis tree fell into water the emperor was boiling. Not everyone agrees on the origin, but no one disputes that tea is deeply woven into the history and culture of China. The beverage is considered one of the seven necessities of Chinese life, along with firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce and vinegar.
Some writers classify tea into four categories, white, green, oolong and black. Others add categories for red, scented and compressed teas. All of these come from varieties of the Camilla sinensis plant. Chinese flower tea, while popular, is not a true tea. Most Chinese tea is consumed in China and is not exported. Green tea is the most popular type of tea used in China.
Within these main categories of tea are vast varieties of individual beverages. Some researchers have counted more than 700. Others put the number at more than 1,000. Some of the variations are due to different strains of the Camilla plant. The popular Tie Guan Yin,for example, is traced back to a single plant discovered in Anxi in the Fujian province. Other teas draw some of their characteristics from local growing conditions. The largest factor in the wide variations comes from differences in processing after the tea is harvested. White and green teas are cooked soon after picking to prevent oxidization, often called fermentation, caused by natural enzymes in the leaves. Oolong teas are partially oxidized. Black and red teas are fully oxidized. Other differences come from variations in the processing steps.