Thanks for helping me identify this mysterious tea!
Looks like it is in fact some kind of black tea. I'm not planning on preparing any of it for drinking but as wesli pointed out, they *do* make great decorations!
I found an interesting blurb on the traditional preparation of this tea from wikipedia. It sounds a LOT like matcha preparation!!! Wow!
Tea served prior to the Ming Dynasty was typically made from tea bricks. Upon harvesting, the tea leaves were either partially dried or were thoroughly dried and ground before being pressed into bricks. The pressing of Pu-erh is likely a vestige of this process. Tea bricks were also sometimes used as currency. To improve its resiliency as currency, some tea bricks were mixed with binding agents such as blood. Serving the tea from tea bricks required multiple steps:
* Toasting: Tea bricks are usually first toasted over a fire to destroy any mould or insects that may have burrowed into the tea bricks. Such infestation sometimes occurred since the bricks were stored openly in warehouses and storerooms. Toasting also likely imparted a pleasant flavour to the resulting tea.
* Grinding: The tea brick was broken up and ground to a fine powder. This practice survives in Japanese powdered tea (Matcha).
* Whisking: The powdered tea was mixed into hot water and frothed with a whisk before serving. The colour and patterns formed by the powdered tea were enjoyed while the mixture was imbibed.
The ground and whisked teas used at that time called for dark and patterned bowls in which the texture of the tea powder suspension could be enjoyed. The best of these bowls, glazed in patterns with names like oil spot, partridge-feather, hare's fur, and tortoise shell, are highly valued today. The patterned holding bowl and tea mixture were often lauded in the period's poetry with phrases such as "partridge in swirling clouds" or "snow on hare's fur". Tea in this period was enjoyed more for its patterns and less for its flavour. The practice of using powdered tea can still be seen in the Japanese Tea ceremony or Chado.