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World invited to savor tea brewed by Yao people

By Zhang Li in Guilin, Guangxi (China Daily Global)

Updated: 2024-01-31

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Elderly members of the Yao ethnic group enjoy oil tea in South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.[Photo provided to China Daily]

As a child, Zhou Liwei, a member of the Yao ethnic group, would wake up early in the morning, not to the alarm clock ringing or his parents' calls.

Instead, the regular pounding of tea leaves with a pot and wooden hammer, often accompanied by the singing of folk songs, would herald the start of the day.

"Pounding the leaves to make our traditional 'oil tea' remains part of our daily life," he said.

Zhou, 47, is a national-level inheritor of intangible cultural heritage linked to the unique tea of his ethnic group in Gongcheng Yao autonomous county of Guilin, South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

He is also head of the local association for the traditional beverage, which can be traced to ancient medicinal drinks to help counter the humidity and other challenging aspects of the local climate. Known popularly as "oil tea", the drink is a unique Yao dietary custom, an integral part of ceremonies, rituals, celebrations and festivals.

Repeatedly pounding and boiling the fresh tea leaves, with generous portions of ginger, a sprinkling of roasted rice, nuts and other local ingredients, can aid digestion, strengthen the stomach and even help prevent malaria, among numerous other health benefits, Zhou said.


Other members of the community prepare tea for visitors.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Late last year, the oil tea of the Yao ethnic group was included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as part of traditional tea processing techniques and associated social practices in China.

"China's traditional tea processing techniques and associated social practices entail the knowledge, skills and practices around tea plantation management, tea-leaf picking, manual processing, drinking and sharing," according to the UNESCO citation.

"Tea is ubiquitous in the Chinese people's daily life ... The practice of greeting guests and building relationships within families and among neighbors through tea-related activities is common to multiple ethnic groups, providing a sense of shared identity and continuity for the communities," it said.

Zhou himself runs a business that helps to preserve the Yao tea tradition and promote it at home and abroad.

"We can churn out up to 10 tons of fresh oil tea products a day," he said, adding that latest efforts to ride modern consumer trends, especially among the young, include bottled, ready-to-drink products and instant mixes.

"We also try to increase our presence beyond the tea's traditional home, taking part in exhibitions, exchanges and related events, to promote its benefits to more people," Zhou said.

"We're looking at having shops in major cities like Beijing and Shenzhen, so that consumers can taste the tea for themselves and learn about its benefits."

Potential for the tea abroad includes markets in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, with export and halal dietary certifications for consumers there already in place, Zhou said.

"Oil tea is part of our rich heritage and we want everyone to appreciate and enjoy it like us," he said.