Gunpowder tea (珠茶; pinyin: zhū chá) is a form of green Chinese tea produced in Zhejiang Province of China in which each leaf has been rolled into a small round pellet. It is believed to take its English name from the fact that the tea resembles grains of black powder. This rolling method of shaping tea is most often applied either to dried green tea (the most commonly encountered variety outside China) or Oolong tea.
In Chinese, gunpowder tea is called zhū chá (珠茶; literally “pearl tea” or “bead tea”; not to be confused with boba tea).
The origin of the English term may come from the tea’s similarity in appearance to actual gunpowder: greyish, dark pellets of irregular shape used as explosive propellant for early guns. The name may also have arisen from the fact that the grey-green leaf is tightly rolled into a tiny pellet and “explodes” into a long leaf upon being steeped in hot water. Another explanation is that the tea can also have a smoky flavor.
It is also possible that the English term may stem from the Mandarin Chinese phrase for “freshly brewed”, gāng pào de (剛泡的), which sounds like the English word “gunpowder.”
Use in the Maghreb
Gunpowder tea is exported to the Maghreb where it is used in the preparation of traditional North African mint tea. The Moroccan tea ritual is at the heart of any social gathering, from an informal visit to a neighbour to lavish soirees with dignitaries. A minimum of two cups need to be drunk so as not to offend the host. Moroccan mint tea is made by adding mint and sugar or honey to gunpowder tea after brewing.