Table of Contents
The chapter narrates the story of tea and how a simple leaf turned into the most consumed beverage in the world. It provides an insight into the processes of tea making. The chapter takes one on a captivating ride to the world of tea.
The refreshing and strong flavors of tea make it the most popular beverage in the world. Camellia Sinensis is the botanical name given to tea. The leaves are first dried, cured, and processed before they are finally packed and sold. Camellia Sinensis, an evergreen plant, grows in tropical and subtropical climates. It requires acidic soils and around 100-125 cm of rainfall annually. It is believed that tea plants acquire a richer flavor at elevations of up to 1500 meters and hence tea estates are located on hill slopes.
When the plants mature, only the top 1-2 inches of the plant are picked. These buds and leaves are called flushes. A new flush appears on the plant every seven to ten days during the peak growing season. There are three distinguished types of tea according to the leaf size:
- Assam type of tea, characterized by the largest leaves;
- China type, characterized by the smallest leaves; and
- Cambod, characterized by leaves of intermediate size.
The three most distinct tea-growing regions in India are Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiris. Tea contains no carbohydrates, fat, or proteins however it gives a special flavor stirred by theanine and caffeine.
The Discovery of Tea
There is a rather amusing Chinese legend according to which, the servant of Emperor Shennong, the father of Chinese agriculture and medicine was boiling water when a few leaves from a nearby tree fell into the water. The emperor drank the water that had changed color and was amazed by its rich flavor and refreshing quality. He then explored more and found that tea had many healing and restorative properties and could also be used as an antidote to certain poisons.
Yet another legend narrates that it was a Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma who first used tea as a drink. He was keen to find a medicinal plant that would help him stay awake for long periods of time in prayer and meditation. After considerable search and trial, he found that chewing leaves from the tea shrub acted as a stimulant and helped him stay awake.
From there on tea spread to other parts of the world. Thus, the habit of drinking tea spread to Japan, Europe, and England, where it became a fashionable and popular drink among the people. How did this magical beverage get its name? The Chinese character t’u was first used in early inscriptions to describe tea. But later, a new character, ch’a, was developed to refer specifically to tea. Although tea was popular as a medicinal plant in India, it was not drunk for pleasure until the 19th century when the British established plantations.
The East India company in the 1770s made futile attempts to grow tea in Bhutan and Assam with Chinese seeds. Robert Bruce discovered tea plants growing wild in the upper Brahmaputra valley in 1823. Finally, in May 1838 the first Indian tea from Assam was sent to England for public sale, making India a leading tea producer.
Tea is extremely beneficial in reducing the risk of cancer, controlling blood pressure, and fighting viruses in our bodies. For many people, tea is a popular drink to have with friends. In many countries like Japan, China, Russia, and Korea, tea drinking is an important social occasion. Every culture has its own eminent way of drinking tea. While in China the tea is made in small clay teapots, in Russia it is made and served in special metal kettles.
In Japan, tea is made using powdered green tea called ‘matcha’. The tea is mixed with boiled water using a bamboo whisk and served in small bowls. Indians have symbolized tea as a token of hospitality. Tea is enjoyed with a multitude of spices and mixes, with ginger and cardamom being the rifest. Tea is a must after a plate of spicy snacks, especially in the morning and evening.
It is understood that tea is a medicinal drink and can be consumed to cure diseases and fight viruses. The origin of tea is just as tasteful and exciting as the beverage itself. Without tea, rainy days are incomplete and although there are many different countries and cultures around the world, they all share the same love for this refreshing hot beverage. In a sense, tea unites us all.