Tea has a fascinating and unique history that goes way beyond the little sealed bag you microwave with water. Tea has become permanently linked with class and culture. Brutal wars have been fought over tea. Be it because of taxes placed on the tea or possession of the tea leaves themselves.
The dawn of tea is thought to have started in the year 2737 BC with the Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung having a few leaves from a tree drift into his mug of boiling water. Why was he drinking boiling water? I do not know. Life must have been pretty bland before tea.
The Unofficial Tea Time Line In Brief
- 2737 BC – Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung is the first to have a cup of tea.
- 552 AD – Buddhist monks are believed to have brought tea to Japan. They bring both teas for drinking and seeds of the Camellia Sinesis (the tea tree), so the Japanese can grow their own Tea.
- 700 AD / 800 AD – The Japanese have perfected their Tea Ceremony. It is thought to be taken from Cha Ching (The Book of Tea) written by a Chinese scholar, Lu Yu,
- 1667 AD Tea Reaches England when Thomas Garway sold it at his coffeehouse in London’s Exchange Alley.
- 1700 AD King of England Charles II places an extremely high tax on tea. It is still rare in England. A luxury for the upper classes only.
- 1773- The Boston Tea Party takes place, leading to American Independence.
- 1784 The tax is reduced, tea smuggling ceases to be a lucrative profession.
- 1790 England is the hub of the world tea trade.
- 2000 We all have tea.
Origins of tea
The British and Japanese are perhaps the best known for cultivating tea drinking into an art form. Americans are remembered for throwing it overboard during the Boston Tea Party.
India holds the title of the world’s leading tea producer. But the actual discovery of tea is credited to the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in the 27th century BC. Supposedly, a leaf from a nearby tree fell into his cup of hot water, and the herbal infusion was thus born.
Due to the Emperor’s fine taste, the Chinese quickly took to the cultivation of the evergreen bush. Not too long after, the Japanese found their climate conducive to the hardy plant. Not until the 17th century, however, did the Europeans get their first taste of the refreshing elixir but had little luck with the plant’s cultivation.
Tea plants prefer tropical climates with rich, deep soils. India and Sri Lanka export most of the world’s tea, but many African countries such as Kenya and Rwanda have extensive tea industries.
Tea has come a long way since Emperor Shen Nung and the cultivation of tea leaves is big business. According to Stash Teas, three basic types of tea exist: black, green, and oolong. The majority of tea is of the black variety where the tea leaf has been fully oxidized and fermented.
Popular black teas include Orange Pekoe and Darjeeling. Darjeeling teas can also be further categorized into summer and spring varieties, depending on how soon young tea leaves are picked. Green tea is not oxidized and has a less hearty flavor than black tea.
Green tea has been a favorite in Asia for many years and is just now becoming more popular in the States. Oolong tea is a hybrid between green and black teas.
Surprisingly enough herbal teas are not true teas at all. Herbal teas are primarily made from roots, berries, and other plant materials. Rarely if ever are the tea leaves of the true tea plant — Camellia sinensis — used for herbal or medicinal teas.
A testament to the fact that tea is no longer a simple manner of brewing a leaf is the complex tea grading system established over the years. Tea grading is not standardized worldwide and many countries have developed their own yardsticks by which to grade their teas.
According to Joy Edlund from Stash Teas, black tea grading, in general, reflects how the leaf was picked and how it holds up after the oxidizing process. Leaves that maintain much of their full size receive the grade of Orange Pekoe while those reduced to powder are crowned with the title of Pekoe Dust.
However, even Pekoe Dust can have excellent flavor and quality. Green teas are graded in a similar fashion but much more variety exists in terminology among countries. Chinese terms for green tea include Gunpowder and Imperial, while in Japan the terms Extra Choicest and Choicest are used.
From Africa to Asia, Europe to Latin America, whether hot or iced, sweetened or black tea has become a refreshing drink accessible to everyone. And with three thousand varieties to choose from tea is certain to please the most discerning tastebuds – even an ancient Chinese Emperor’s.
Types of tea
There are three main types of tea. They are Black Tea, Oolong Tea, Green Tea. When you buy tea in the grocery store, if it is true¨ tea it will be one of these types. Tea comes either loose-leaf or in bag form. To prepare a cup of tea properly you must first boil the water. Then you pour just the water into the teapot or cup. The teapot or cup should be made out of clay material.
The water will heat the clay. This way when you pour in the boiling water it will warm and coddle the tea without shocking it. Pour out the water you used to heat the pot, drop in your tea ball or tea bag, and pour in more boiling water.
The water should always be poured over tea. Otherwise, the tea will not achieve its full flavor. Allow the tea to steep. After the tea has finished steeping, about 5 minutes, it is ready to be enjoyed.
Green Tea is fabulous in the morning; I find it to be a real energizer. I prefer scones with double cream and raspberry preserves with my Black Tea or even with Oolong. You have to decide how you like your tea.