What is Gunpowder Tea?

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There are only a handful of basic teas, all of which are derived from the same plant: Camellia sinensis. This evergreen shrub produces leaves and buds that are harvested and processed to make green, white, black, yellow, oolong, and dark teas.

The different tea varieties are a result from how tea leaves are grown and harvested. If leaves are not allowed to oxidize, green tea is produced. If leaves are allowed to oxidize for only a short period of time, oolong teas result. While many of the several basic types of tea can be made into the gunpowder variation, it is most commonly produced from green tea.

Origins, Appearance, & Flavor

Gunpowder tea, which originated in ancient China, can be dated back to the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD), and the name is derived from its distinct pellet shape. To this day, China remains the top producer of this green tea variation.

Intriguing Looks

After harvesting, the green tea leaves are wilted, steamed, rolled into small balls, and then dried. This practice of rolling the leaves into compact orbs allows them to keep most of their flavor and fragrance.

Once fully processed, the leaves have a dark grayish-green color. Unlike many teas, this variation is made from older, darker, and more mature tea leaves. These darker colored leaves, in turn, produce a tea with a warm golden tone.

Distinct Flavor

While green tea is usually described as having a mild grassy and floral flavor with subtle notes of fruit and bitterness, gunpowder tea has a more distinct and robust taste. Compared to other green teas, this variation is known for having a bold, smokey, and nutty flavor.

Brewing Gunpowder Tea

While gunpowder tea is known for its unique shape and is often found loose, it can also be purchased in pre-packaged tea bags. Either way, there are only a few steps to follow in order to brew a fresh cup. When brewing this variation, however, it is important to use the correct water temperature. If the water is too hot, the brewed tea will be bitter and unpleasant.

Single Brew with Tea Bags

In just a few steps, gunpowder tea bags can be steeped to make an excellent caffeinated beverage.

  1. Bring water to a boil either on the stove or in an electric tea kettle. For best results, spring water is suggested. Once it has boiled, let it set and cool until it reaches approximately 175°F.
  2. While the water is reaching the correct temperature, place one tea bag in a mug. When the temperature is just right, pour roughly 8 oz of water into the mug.
  3. Steep the tea for 3-5 minutes. Then, remove the tea bag and enjoy!
  4. If desired, a sweetener of your choice can be added to enhance the tea’s flavor to your liking.

Single Brew with Loose-Leaf

In just five steps, loose gunpowder tea leaves can be steeped directly in a teacup for a flavorful beverage.

  1. Bring fresh spring water to a rolling boil. (This can be done on the stove or with an electric kettle.) Once it starts to boil, remove it from the heat to cool slightly.
  2. Preheat the cup you plan to use by pouring in a little of the hot water you just warmed up, then discard the water.
  3. Place one teaspoon of gunpowder leaves into the heated teacup.
  4. Once the boiled water’s temperature has cooled down to roughly 160°F, pour 5 oz of water on top of the tea leaves.
  5. Steep the tea leaves for 2-3 minutes before straining them out and sipping on your brew.

Re-Steeping Gunpowder Leaves

Due to the boldness and strength of this green tea variety, gunpowder leaves can be reused four more times after an initial brew. In order to keep the tea flavorful, each subsequent brew should add 30 seconds to the steep time. (The second usage should steep for 2½-3½ minutes, while the fifth and final brew should steep for 4-5 minutes.)

Nutritional Value in Each Cup

In one tea bag (or one 8 oz cup prepared with 1 tsp of gunpowder pellets), there are zero calories, fats, carbs, and sugars. The caffeine content, on the other hand, is rather high when compared to other types of green tea. In one serving of gunpowder tea, there is anywhere from 35-40 mg of caffeine.

Medicinal Use

While there is limited research and evaluation on gunpowder tea with respect to its medicinal use, it has been regarded by many as having excellent properties to keep the body healthy. Some of the health-related concerns it has been used to combat include:

  • Brain fog
  • Poor digestion and weight
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Viruses
  • Weakened immune systems

Oolong Gunpowder Tea

While gunpowder tea is mostly known as a green tea variety, it is also available as an oolong tea variation. After all, gunpowder tea refers to how the tea leaves are rolled tightly into small balls. This process, however, can be done with differently prepared tea leaves.

The difference between green and oolong tea is the preparation of the tea leaves after they have been harvested. While green tea leaves are not allowed to oxidize, oolong tea leaves are semi-oxidized and then pan-fried to prevent full oxidation from occurring. (Camellia sinensis leaves that are left to fully oxidize are black tea leaves.)

Formosa Gunpowder tea, for example, is a variation of oolong tea produced in Taiwan. Unlike gunpowder green tea, these oolong tea leaves are roasted, providing a deep and bold smoky flavor.

The Takeaway

Gunpowder tea, a caffeinated beverage with ancient Chinese roots, is widely enjoyed today. Most commonly known as a green tea variation, it offers a bold, rich, and smoky flavor distinct from other traditional green teas. While there is little research to back it up, it is both enjoyed for its flavor and also for its potential health benefits. Regardless of why someone might choose to sip on this beverage, it is easy to brew at home and requires little time and effort.