A Guide to Herbal Chinese Tea: 6 Classic Drinks Explained
With this guide in hand, you'll know exactly what to order at Chinese herbal tea shops
In China, herbs have been used as a way to heal, boost and nourish the body for centuries. Known as leung cha (涼茶) in Cantonese, which translates to “cooling tea” in English, Chinese herbal teas are an essential part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and have been believed to help prevent illnesses by minimising the body’s excessive heat and dampness.
Today, Chinese herbal teas still remain popular in Hong Kong, as it’s believed that herbal teas act as a healthier, natural alternative to Western medicine. Whether you prefer to get your herbal tea fix from grab-and-go shops at the MTR station, or if you like old-school herbal tea shops that serve their magic potions in ceramic bowls, Chinese herbal teas can still feel daunting especially when you have no idea what each drink consists of or the benefits each one would bring. Here, we break down several popular Chinese herbal tea drinks for your next health fix.
24 Flavours (廿四味)
Function: Balances internal heat, aids digestion
If you’ve been getting pimples, sore throats and ulcers recently, it might be because you’ve been eating a lot of yeet hay (熱氣) foods—meaning anything that is fried, greasy or spicy.
To help balance out your body’s heat, try 24 Flavours, one of the more well-known Chinese herbal tea drinks that aids with clearing internal heat and improves digestion issues. The drink is made of as many as 28 medicinal ingredients such as mulberry leaf, chrysanthemum flower and peppermint.
Hemp Seed Drink (火麻仁)
Function: Pain relief, lessens nausea, prescribed for constipation
This nutty, sesame-like flavoured drink is made from hemp seeds, one of the fifty fundamental herbs in TCM. Hemp seeds are known to have sweet and neutral properties in TCM, and are associated with improving your digestive system and bowel movements. The seeds are lightly roasted to bring out the seed’s nutty flavour, then crushed and boiled to make the hemp seed drink we all know and love.
Canton Abrus Herb Drink (雞骨草)
Function: Clear toxins, improve liver functions & general health
Perfect for those who like to drink and smoke, the Canton Abrus herb drink is known for relieving stress and improving liver functions, helping you to detox from toxins. The herb itself resembles thin tree twigs and gives the tea a warm brown tone. To make the drink easier to swallow, it’s often boiled alongside a sweetener such as liquorice.
Five Flower Tea (五花茶)
Function: Maintain digestive tract health, soothe sore throats and other inflammations
Five flower tea is made with just that—five types of medicinal flowers. While the ingredients slightly differ from shop to shop, the drink is generally made of Kapok flower, Kudzu flower, Plumeria, Japanese honeysuckle and Prunella vulgaris.
(Related: The Art Of Darjeeling Tea Tasting)
Heal-All Tea (夏枯草)
Function: Reduces internal heat, improve vision, soothe swelling and aches such as headaches caused by hypertension
Prunella Vulgaris—also known as the heal-all plant is an edible plant that can be eaten in salads, boiled as an herb, or brewed to make a beverage. While the drink brings numerous benefits to adults, from improving visions to calming toothaches, the drink may not be suitable for kids as the properties of the plant is cold, which may cause stomach issues for the little ones.
Rorippa Indica Tea (葛菜水)
Function: Cool down internal heat, detox
Rorippa Indica is a plant that carries an ocean salt, savoury flavour. The herb itself is large, green and leafy, but the drink is brown-hued after boiling. The Rorippa Indica Tea is a refreshing beverage that’ll help you cool down in the summer, while also working hard to help balance out your body’s internal heat and push out any toxins.