Despite its unique name and appearance, gunpowder tea doesn't contain any gunpowder. What it does contain is a boost of powerful antioxidants that are being studied for disease-fighting properties. The minimal processing of gunpowder tea allows a higher level of antioxidant concentration to remain intact. Green tea has recently gained more interest from many in the health-conscious community, as it is being studied for its role in fighting cancer and heart disease. Limited studies have also linked green tea with an increased ability to burn fat, prevent diabetes and stroke, and stave off dementia.
Drinking gunpowder tea is a tradition that began much earlier than one might expect. The production of gunpowder tea dates back to the Tang Dynasty in China, around 618 B.C. It's commonly believed this ancient tea was given its unique name by British sailors who noticed the unusually shaped tea looked like gunpowder pellets they were carrying aboard when they were exporting the tea from China to the West.
The interesting shape of gunpowder tea is what makes it so unique. Rolled into small pearl-like balls, the tea slowly unfurls like a flower as the pellet absorbs water. Occasionally, the pellets will "pop" completely open at once, which suggests gunpowder is indeed a good name for this unique concoction. Gunpowder tea is made by steaming the tea leaves and tightly rolling them into small pellets, which are then dried. Rolling the tea into balls helps to preserve the freshness of the leaves. Perhaps this is why the Chinese name for gunpowder tea means freshly brewed.
Since gunpowder tea is classified as a green tea, it shares all of the health-supporting antioxidant properties that are specific to green tea. The antioxidants embodied in green tea, especially EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate) are especially beneficial. Antioxidants are important to the body because they act as scavengers for disease-causing free radicals. Unchecked free radicals contribute to the development of many different types of ailments, such as cancer, and can even cause damage to the very structure of DNA.
Since most studies that have been conducted regarding the health benefits of green tea (such as gunpowder tea), have taken place in Japan, it is unclear to some researchers if the results were achieved due to the tea, or to the healthier diet and lifestyle of study participants. One study conducted in Japan involved 500 Japanese women in Stage I and Stage II breast cancer. It was found that by increasing green tea consumption before and after surgery, a lower recurrence of the cancer resulted.
How to Prepare
Brewing methods vary widely, due to different types and individual preference. However a common recommendation is 1 tsp. of gunpowder tea to every 5 ounces of water. The leaves should be steeped for about one minute. As gunpowder tea has a soft honey flavor, it is not recommended to add any milk or sugar. Its flavor and aroma are meant to be enjoyed in their natural state.
When shopping for gunpowder tea, look for shiny pellets. This means the tea is relatively fresh. Also pay attention to the size of the pellets; small, tightly rolled pellets are the mark of high quality.