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What is Gunpowder Tea?

There may be a distinct lack of snap, crackle and pop on Bonfire Night this year, but if you're into tea like us, it's hard to think of the Gunpowder Plot without thoughts turning to Gunpowder green tea.

Gunpowder Tea is believed to have originated in China in the 7th century where its original name was zhu cha or “pearl tea”. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that it earned its name of Gunpowder Tea, when a British clerk noticed that the tightly rolled tea leaves resembled grains of gunpowder. 

The tea leaves are withered, steamed & rolled into tight, green balls that open up when steeped. Rolling the leaves enabled tea merchants to export this tea safely, with minimal damage to them during the long journey. In addition, the reduced surface area helps the leaves to retain their flavour, nutrients and caffeine for up to 10 years, meaning gunpowder tea is often considered to have a slightly higher caffeine content than other teas. However, as we’ve covered in our post Caffeine Content in Tea, green tea is steeped at a lower temperature for a shorter time giving the caffeine less chance to dissolve in the water, which results in a lower caffeine content than a cup of black tea. Gunpowder, much like its name also tends to have a slightly smoky flavour profile.

Gunpowder tea is popular in North Africa where it is used in the preparation of traditional Moroccan (North African) mint tea, by adding mint and sugar or honey whilst brewing. The head of the household prepares the tea during a traditional tea ceremony to honour guests. Using a silver teapot (a berrad), the tea is first rinsed in boiling water before the water is discarded. Sugar is added to the pot which is then filled with more boiling water and left to steep for several minutes. The tea is served in a glass (rather than a cup) and poured from a height of 12 inches or more to aerate the tea and create a froth. The first glass of tea is usually quite strong and makes room in the teapot for the host to add handfuls of fresh mint, more tea leaves and more sugar. This second pot of tea, heavily sweetened and fragrant with mint, is the taste that has put Moroccan Tea (and hospitality!) on the map. Guests are expected to drink at least three glasses and it is considered an insult to refuse.

The leaves in our Gunpowder Green Tea unfurl to produce a golden green liquor with a lightly smoked, buttery and nutty character. We recommend following our guide on How To Brew Green Tea so you don’t accidentally burn the unoxidized leaves, leaving you with a bitter taste. 3-5 minutes at 80˚C is ideal and like all our green teas, we recommend enjoying without milk.

Check out our Gunpowder Green Tea which is available as part of our Sommelier’s Selection, exclusively through our online shop!

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