First off, its NAME!
The colorful name of gunpowder tea may well come from the resemblance of its pellets to actual gunpowder, stemming from the days when ships sailed this tea around the globe.
And certainly, many of the leaves are rolled into tight pellets. Here are examples of green gunpowder tea, though there is also black gunpowder tea.
Granted, I have only an approximate to compare it to—in the form of Pyrodex, a muzzleloading propellant, by Hodgdon (at right). Apparently actual gunpowder looks more like pellets.
But there are other possibilities for this colorful name, including that it “explodes” in hot water. But that doesn’t hold water with me because when I brew this tea, the pellets open up ever so slowly and actually need a second infusion before they fully unroll (see my post on rolled teas for more photos).
Other explanations are that this tea is somewhat smoky in flavor or that “freshly brewed” in Mandarin sounds like the English “gunpowder.”
And then there’s the TEA!
Of the various green gunpowder teas, Temple of Heaven is the finest quality. Choice leaves and buds are rolled into tight pellets (the smaller the pellets, the higher the quality) that slowly open as they brew, releasing their smoky and sweet vegetal flavor.
And when they fully unroll, you have large pieces of intact leaves as well as entire leaves.
The China Gunpowder Temple of Heaven pictured here is available at TeaHaus; recommended brewing is 1 level tsp per 8 oz filtered water, boiled and cooled to 167°F, for 2 minutes.