Tea's Wonderful History
by L. K. Yee
Tea is among the world's oldest and most revered beverages. It is today's most popular beverage in the world, next to water. Tea drinking has long been an important aspect of Chinese culture. A Chinese saying identifies the seven basic daily necessities as fuel, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar, and tea. According to Chinese legend, tea was invented accidentally by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nong in 2737 B.C. Emperor Shen Nong was a scholar and herbalist, as well as a creative scientist and patron of the arts. Among other things, the emperor believed that drinking boiled water contributed to good health. By his decree, his subjects and servants had to boil their water before drinking it as a hygiene precaution. On one summer day while he was visiting a distant region, he and his entourage stopped to rest. The servants began to boil water for the skilled ruler and his subjects to drink. Dried leaves from a nearby camellia bush fell into the boiling water. The pleasing aroma in this new brew interested the emperor, so he drank the infusion and discovered that it was very refreshing and had a delightful flavor. He declared that tea gives vigor to the body, thus tea was invented, but it was considered a medicinal beverage. It was around 300 A.D. when tea became a daily drink.
It was not until the Tang and Song Dynasties when tea showed some significance in Chinese tradition. During the mid-Tang Dynasty (780 A.D.), a scholar named Lu Yu published the first definitive book, Cha Ching or The Tea Classic, on tea after he spent over twenty years studying the subject. This documentation included his knowledge of planting, processing, tasting, and brewing tea. His research helped to elevate tea drinking to a high status throughout China; the art of tea drinking was born. Later, a Song Dynasty emperor helped the spread of tea consumption further by indulging in this wonderful custom. He enjoyed tea drinking so much, he bestowed tea as gifts only to those who were worthy. During this time, tea was the inspiration of books, poems, songs, and paintings. This not only popularized tea, it also elevated tea's value which drew tea-growers to the capital. Between the Yuan and Qing Dynasties, the technology of tea production continuously advanced to become more simplified and to improve the methods of enhancing tea flavor. During this period, tea houses and other tea-drinking establishments were opening up all over China. By 900 A.D., tea drinking spread from China to Japan where the Japanese Tea Ceremony or Chanoyu, was created. In Japan, tea was elevated to an art form which requires years of dedicated study. Unlike the Japanese, the Chinese tend to view tea drinking as a form of enjoyment: to have after a meal or to serve when guests visit.
Tea was introduced to Europe in the 1600s; it was introduced to England in 1669. At that time, the drink was enjoyed only by the aristocracy because a pound of tea cost an average British laborer the equivalent of nine months in wages. The British began to import tea in larger qualities to satisfy the rapidly expanding market. Tea became Britain's most important item of trade from China. All classes were able to drink tea as the tea trade increased and became less of a luxury. Now, tea is low in price and readily available.
The word "tea" was derived from ancient Chinese dialects. Such words as "Tchai", "Cha", and "Tay" were used to describe the tea leaf as well as the beverage. The tea plant's scientific name is Camellia sinensis (which is from the Theaceae family of the Theales order), and it is indigenous to China and parts of India. The tea plant is an evergreen shrub that develops fragrant white, five-petalled flowers, and related to the magnolia. Tea is made from young leaves and leaf buds from the tea tree. Two main varieties are cultivated: C. sinensis sinensis, a Chinese plant with small leaves, and C. sinensis assamica, an Indian plant with large leaves. Hybrids of these two varieties are also cultivated. What we call "herbal tea" is technically not tea because it does not come from the tea plant but consists a mixture of flowers, fruit, herbs or spices from other plants.
The main processes of tea production consist of roasting and fermentation: drying the tea leaf and allowing the tea leaf to produce the qualities that identify a particular type of tea. Depending on the length of roasting and the degree of fermentation, the taste and aroma of a tea beverage ranges from somewhat bitter to slightly sweet and from strong to light. The key naturally occurring chemicals in tea are essential oils, caffeine, and tannins (also known as polyphenols). The essential oils are mainly responsible for the beverage's aroma and some of tea's flavor, while caffeine is responsible for the beverage's stimulating effect. Caffeine contributes only a little to tea's flavor, color, and aroma. Tannins is responsible for tea's color and astringency; polyphenols in green tea have recently been identified as antioxidants and shown to reduce the incidence of cancer.
Today, there are more than 1,500 types of tea to choose from because over 25 countries cultivate tea as a plantation crop; China is one of the main producers of tea. The diversity is a result of subtle differences in soil, climate, elevation, and other factors. Essentially, there are three types of tea: black (or red), green, and oolong. Each type is distinguished by the amount of fermentation that takes place in processing it. Fermentation changes the chemical structure of the tea leaf to enhance flavor. The longer the fermentation process, the more caffeine it contains and the darker it becomes. Black tea, such as Darjeeling, Ceylon, and Lapsang Souchong, is fermented then roasted and dried to produce a dark reddish-brown brew with a malt-like aroma. Green tea, such as Hyson and Sencha, is unfermented which produces a slightly bitter taste and smells like fresh vegetables. Oolong tea, such as "Fancy Formosa," is partly fermented which produces a milder brew. Within the oolong tea category, there are three degrees of fermentation: lightly, moderately, and heavily fermented. Lightly fermented oolong tea, such as Paochung, is fully fragrant, clear, and golden in color. Moderately fermented oolong tea, such as "Iron Buddha" and "Frozen Peak," has a light smell, vague sweet aftertaste, and a brownish color. Heavily fermented oolong tea, such as White Hair, has a fruity aroma and reddish-orange coloring. Tea is also classified according to regions or smaller districts, such as Chinese, Japanese, or Indonesian or Assam (India), Uva (Sri Lanka), or Enshu (Japan). Tea is also classified by the size of its processed leaf. The leaf grades are flowery pekoe, orange pekoe, pekoe, pekoe souchong, and souchong.
Currently, tea is China's national drink. About half of the world's population drink tea. It contains vitamins (riboflavin and nicotinic acid), essential oils, caffeine, tannins, and fluoride, and tea only contains four calories per cup without additional ingredients, like milk or sugar. Some believe that avid tea drinkers have longer lives, and tea has medical properties and benefits that have been scientifically proven, hence tea has become a generally recognized natural health food.
All The Tea In China, by Kit Chow and Ione Kramer
Britannica Online: "tea", by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
The Chinese Art of Tea Drinking
The History of Tea, compiled by The Tea Council Limited
Tea, by The Stash Tea 官方正版幸运彩票
The Way of Tea, by Sundance Natural Foods, Inc.