Gunpowder green tea has been popular for centuries for its smooth, honey-like taste. So how did it get such a harsh name? Discover the history of gunpowder green tea here!

Steep History: Gunpowder Green Tea

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Green tea tends to have a reputation for a lighter, more refined flavor than black tea or oolong. Many carry intriguing and imaginative names, like “dragon well”, “matcha” and “gyokuro”. There is, however, one green tea that seems to break the mold: Gunpowder.

The word gunpowder calls to mind images of dark powder and a sour, acrid smell and taste – not something you’d want in your tea. Yet gunpowder green tea has become a staple in the tea world, so there must be something there to love.

How did this tea get its baffling name, and why does it seem to be popular in spite of that? Steep a cup for yourself and sit down with us as we unravel the mystery of gunpowder tea.

The Early Days of Gunpowder Green Tea

One of the most obvious features of gunpowder green tea is that the leaves were rolled. While it isn’t the only tea with rolled leaves, it was certainly one of the first.

The Chinese began rolling tea leaves at some point during the Tang Dynasty, which ranged from the years 618 to 907. Once the leaves have been withered and steamed, they are hand rolled, then left out to dry to hold their shape.

Gunpowder green tea has been popular for centuries for its smooth, honey-like taste. So how did it get such a harsh name? Discover the history of gunpowder green tea here!

Rolling the leaves extended the tea’s viability for transport, allowing them to be traded all over China. This shape also gives gunpowder tea its Chinese name: zhū chá (珠茶), which translates as “pearl tea”.

An Explosion of Popularity

In the 17th century, British merchants and military began traveling to China, where they became fascinated with tea. Gunpowder green tea was particularly favored, since its shape would help it retain a stronger flavor and aroma after months of traveling.

gunpowder green tea and chinese tea cups cropped

It was the British who also gave the tea the name “gunpowder”. Why? Because it looked like it. The tiny tea pellets have a grayish-green hue, and when piled up, they looked very similar to the gunpowder of the day. Gunpowder green tea often has a smokey accent to its taste as well, which may have helped to cement the name.

Some speculate that the name may have come from a misappropriation of the Chinese term gāng pào de, which means “freshly brewed” and sounds similar to “gunpowder”. While it is an interesting and even humorous coincidence, no evidence has surfaced thus far to verify this connection.

Gunpowder Green Tea in the Modern Day

Today, gunpowder green tea is a well-known and widely popular tea worldwide. Though considered basic by some, many enjoy it for its strong and more robust flavor compared to other green teas, like sencha or dragon well. It is also one of the easiest and most forgiving to steep, making it a good starting point for those just discovering green teas.

Gunpowder green tea also makes an excellent base for blends. It is widely used in African tea traditions, especially the famous Moroccan Mint featured in the Moroccoan Tea Ritual.

Gunpowder green tea has been popular for centuries for its smooth, honey-like taste. So how did it get such a harsh name? Discover the history of gunpowder green tea here!

Gunpowder tea’s common popularity might make it seem less exotic than other varieties of tea, but it isn’t hard to see that this tea’s inviting and reliable flavor makes it worthy of its place among the green tea classics. Pick up a box and find out for yourself today!

Are you a fan of gunpowder green tea? Is there another tea you’d like to see featured in a Steep History article? Let us know in the comments below!